Clitellata is a class of Annelid worms, characterized by having a clitellum - the 'collar' that forms a reproductive cocoon during part of their life cycle. The clitellates comprise around 8,000 species.

Contrary to the class of Polychaeta, they do not have parapodia and their head is less developed.


Most clitellata live on land or in freshwater.


All clitellata are hermaphrodites. During reproduction, the clitellum secretes a coat which hardens. The worm then creeps out backward from the coat and deposits either fertilized zygotes or both ovae and sperms into the coat, which is then packed into a cocoon. The zygotes then evolve further directly in the cocoon without passing through a larva stadium (as opposed to other annelids, e.g. polychaeta.) This mechanism is considered to be apomorphic (newer in evolution).


The Acanthobdellidea are sometimes moved out of the Hirudinea as a distinct subclass too. Overall. clitellate phylogeny is not well resolved.

Namely, the Acanthobdellidea, Branchiobdella and Hirudinea are monophyletic but actually embedded among the "Oligochaeta", which are actually an evolutionary grade of lineages that are outwardly similar but not actually very close relatives. In particular, the leeches and earthworms appear to be very close relatives. Two approaches are possible:

  • abolish Oligochaeta as traditionally delimited in favor of a number of smaller monophyletic lineages
  • treat Oligochaeta and Clitellata as synonymous while splitting up the traditional "oligochaetes" into monophyletic lineages.



  • (2008): ICZN rules – a farewell to Tubificidae (Annelida, Clitellata). Zootaxa 1744: 66–68. PDF fulltext
  • (2006): Systematische Zoologie.

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