Key to Australian Freshwater and Terrestrial Invertebrates

Phylum Annelida
Class Clitellata
Family Haplotaxidae

Common names: haplotaxids


The Haplotaxidae is a family of mostly aquatic oligochaetes, superficially resembling earthworms. Most species are 2-10cm long, and are very elongate relative to their width. Often haplotaxids have pink or brown colouration when alive.

Distribution and diversity

There are only about 20 species of Haplotaxidae described worldwide, all from the type genus, Haplotaxis. Four species have been reported from Australia. Only one species, Haplotaxis ornamentus, is endemic to Australia and has been described from deep Tasmanian lakes. The rest of Australia’s species have been identified from very few specimens.

Life cycle

Haplotaxids, like all oligochaetes, are hermaphrodites, with both male and female genitalia. A mating pair overlaps anterior ends ventrally and each exchanges sperm with the other. The worms then separate and the clitellum secretes the cocoon that forms a ring around the worm into which the eggs are laid and sperm deposited.


The genus Haplotaxis, including Haplotaxis heterogyne which was described from New Zealand, is predatory and the animals have a gizzard-like pharynx and large sickle-shaped ventral chaetae for grasping prey.


Most species of Haplotaxidae are found in semi-terrestrial habitats such as river banks or in surficial sediments of lakes and streams. They also inhabit subterranean environments such as caves, groundwater and hyproheric zones (where groundwater and surface water meet).