View the Polychaetous Annelids Collections | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

With over 4,000 square feet of space, the polychaete collection room at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is one of the world's largest repositories of sea worms.

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Contact Polychaete Staff

J. Kirk Fitzhugh
Phone:  (213) 763-3233
FAX:       (213) 746-2999

Leslie H. Harris
Collections Manager
Phone:  (213) 763-3234
FAX:       (213) 746-2999

Mailing address:
Research & Collections
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90007

Why are Polychaete Collections Important?

Our understanding of how the oceans operate and affect our very existence is dependent upon understanding the diversity of life in all ocean habitats. Learn more >


The Polychaete Collection

The Museum's polychaete collection represents one of the world's most important repositories for this group of organisms. With over 200,000 containers holding several million specimens, the collection maintains the most comprehensive coverage of eastern Pacific polychaete species in the world. Because of its world-class status, the collection receives near-constant use by marine biologists from the west coast, and specimens are routinely lent to specialists all over the world.

A World Class Collection

Special Strengths

  • Unparalleled in breadth of coverage of eastern Pacific habitats, both in terms of depth (intertidal to abyssal) and volume of readily available material; the Museum's holdings of polychaete worms represent the major source of material for all monographic work on the group in the eastern Pacific.
  • World-wide representation especially from Indian, Pacific, and Antarctic oceans.
  • Numerous environmental survey collections over the past 40 years in a range of depths along the coasts of Oregon, California, and Mexico.
  • The collection is an ongoing fundamental resource for most of the environmental agencies along the west coast of North America.
  • The collections are historically vital to important conservation biology, biodiversity, and environmental assessment issues, especially in the eastern Pacific.

Brief History of the Collection

The Beginning: The Allan Hancock Foundation and Dr. Olga Hartman

                                                                                           Dr. Olga Hartman (1969). Photo courtesy of Kristian Fauchald.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's polychaete collection had its beginning in 1940, with the hiring of Dr. Olga Hartman (1900-1974) to the Allan Hancock Foundation (AHF), located on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. Dr. Hartman was one of the twentieth-century's preeminent polychaete systematists. With the Hancock Foundation's regular collecting expeditions in the eastern Pacific using their research vessel, Velero, Dr. Hartman amassed a major compilation of polychaete species from the 1940s-1960s. Dr. Hartman's work on polychaetes from the Indian and Antarctic oceans helped expand the collection's holdings beyond the Pacific.

University of Southern California and Dr. Kristian Fauchald

With her retirement in 1969, Dr. Hartman's former Ph.D. student, Dr. Kristian Fauchald, was in charge of the AHF collection during most of the 1970s. Subsequent to his graduation, Dr. Fauchald joined the USC faculty, and continued Dr. Hartman's tradition of adding substantially to the collection through various ecological surveys coordinated by the university as well as by way of his significant systematics research and that of his students.

Upon his departure in 1977 for a position at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Fauchald's oversight of the collection was transferred to Ms. Susan Williams, and later to Ms. Leslie H. Harris, both maintained the tradition of encouraging use and growth of the collection.

Transfer to the Natural History Museum

                                                   Kristian Fauchald (left) and Kirk Fitzhugh (2006)

In 1988, a formal agreement was made to transfer ownership of the polychaete collection from USC to the Natural History Museum. Subsequent to this transfer, the Museum hired Ms. Harris as Collections Manager, and in 1990 hired Dr. Kirk Fitzhugh as Curator of the collection. The physical move of the collection into its current space in the Museum took place in 1993, which has allowed for its continued growth into the future.