Fossil annelid collection (Annelida)

The collection of fossil annelids at the Natural History Museum is both geologically and geographically diverse. It contains an estimated 14,000 specimens, including type and figured specimens.

Despite the excellent preservation potential of annelid hard parts they are not often collected. Diversity in an assemblage is often low, relating to a single family, the Serpulidae. Consequently, annelids form one of our smaller invertebrate collections.

The value of the collection is enhanced by a small specialist library.


What does the collection contain?

The collection mainly comprises tubes of the Serpulidae (class Polychaeta), although all 6 classes of annelid are represented:

  • Archianellida
  • Echiuroidea
  • Hirundinea
  • Myzostomaria
  • Oligochaeta
  • Polychaeta

Trace fossils relating to the worms are curated separately.

Geological range:

Lower Palaeozoic to Recent. Each class of annelid worm is represented across its full geological range. 

Geographical range:

The collection is representative of all continents, including Antarctica and oceanic islands.

  • Historic collections containing fossil annelids

    The Museum cares for many important collections linked to major characters in the history of palaeontology. Find out some of the highlights containing fossil annelid specimens.

  • Research visitor facilities

    Discover what facilities are available in the Palaeontology Department for research visitors to the fossil annelid collection.

Collections management and curation


The fossil annelid collection is primarily arranged 

  1. stratigraphically
  2. taxonomically
  3. with further subdivisions based upon locality

The systematic arrangement follows the Treatise on Invertebrate Palaeontology.

There are some separate historic collections and Recent (non-fossil) specimens.

  • Content is kept in drawer units.
  • Specimens are generally boxed.
  • Some older specimens are adhered to cards.

Each drawer has a label which identifies the content to familial, generic and often specific level.

Most of the collection is well provenanced:

  • For historic content the associated person is identified.
  • For geographical content the associated locality is identified.
  • Original labels are often retained with the specimens.

Type specimens are indicated by pink spots, figured by green.


The fossil annelid collection is based across 3 locations in London:

  • Most is housed in the Palaeontology Department at South Kensington.
  • Some specimens, principally ex-display, are in expansion storage at Wandsworth.
  • Some specimens are on display at the Natural History Museum in the Earth Lab and in the Fossils from Britain gallery.

Using palaeontology collections