information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Arenicola marina in infralittoral fine sand or muddy sand



UK and Ireland classification

UK and Ireland classification


In shallow fine sand or non-cohesive muddy sand in fully marine conditions (or occasionally in variable salinity) a community characterized by the polychaete Arenicola marina may occur. This biotope appears quite faunally sparse. Those other taxa present however, include scavenging crustacea such as Pagurus bernhardus and Liocarcinus depurator, terebellid polychaetes such as Lanice conchilega and the burrowing anemone Cerianthus lloydii. Occasional Sabella pavonina and frequent Ensis spp. may also be observed in some areas. At certain times of the year a diatom film may be present on the sediment surface. The majority of records for this biotope are derived from epifaunal surveys and consequently there is little information available for the associated infaunal species. It is possible that this biotope, like EcorEns (to which it is broadly similar) is an epibiotic overlay on other biotopes from the SSA complex. (Information from Connor et al., 2004).

Depth range

0-5 m, 5-10 m, 10-20 m

Additional information

Arenicola marina has a high fecundity and spawns synchronously within a given area, although the spawning period varies between areas. Spawning usually coincides with spring tides and fair weather (high pressure, low rainfall and wind speed) (see Arenicola marina review).

Wilde & Berghuis (1979b) reported 316,000 oocytes per female with an average wet weight of 4 grammes. Eggs and early larvae develop within the female burrow. Post-larvae are capable of active migration by crawling, swimming in the water column and passive transport by currents (Farke & Berghuis, 1979) e.g. Günther (1992) suggested that post-larvae of Arenicola marina were transported distances in the range of 1 km.  Juvenile settlement is density dependant and the juveniles avoid areas of high adult abundance and settle above the adults on the shore (Farke & Berghuis, 1979; Reise et al., 2001). For example, on the sand flat of Sylt (North Sea), post-larvae hibernate in mussel beds and shell gravel in deep tidal channels, then migrate above the normal adult range (towards the top of the shore) and settle in conspicuous nursery beds in May to October. The juveniles migrate down the shore before or during the next winter, leaving the upper shore for the next generation. Reise et al. (2001) suggested that the largest and possibly oldest individuals were found seaward and in subtidal sands.

Adults reach sexual maturity by their second year (Newell, 1948; Wilde & Berghuis, 1979) but may mature by the end of their first year in favourable conditions depending on temperature, body size, and hence food availability (Wilde & Berghuis, 1979).

Beukema & de Vlas, (1979) suggested a lifespan, in the Dutch Wadden Sea, of at least 5-6 years, and cite a lifespan of at least 6 years in aquaria. They also suggested an average annual mortality or 22%, an annual recruitment of 20% and reported that the abundance of the population had been stable for the previous 10 years. However, Newell (1948) reported 40% mortality of adults after spawning in Whitstable.

McLusky et al. (1983) examined the effects of bait digging on blow lug populations in the Forth estuary. Dug and in-filled areas and unfilled basins left after digging re-populated within 1 month, whereas mounds of dug sediment took longer and showed a reduced population. Basins accumulated fine sediment and organic matter and showed increased population levels for about 2-3 months after digging. Beukema (1995) noted that the lugworm stock recovered slowly from mechanical dredging reaching its original level in at least three years.  Reise et al. (2001) noted that a 50% reduction in the abundance of adult lugworm on sand flats in Sylt after the severe winter of 1995/96, was replaced by an enhanced recruitment of juveniles in spring, so that the effect of the severe winter on Arenicola marina population was small and brief.  Beukema (1995) estimated that four to five years of mechanical dredging in the Balgzand region of the Wadden Sea, increased the mortality of the Arenicola population by ca 17% per year to a total of ca 40% per year and resulted in a long-term decline in the lugworm stock, until the dredge moved to a richer area. However, Beukema (1995) noted that the lugworm stock recovered slowly after mechanical dredging, reaching its original level after at least three years.

Therefore, the recovery of Arenicola marina populations is generally regarded as rapid, and occurs by recolonization by adults or colonization by juveniles from adjacent populations or the subtidal. However, Fowler (1999) pointed out that recovery may take longer on a small pocket, isolated, beach with limited possibility of recolonization from surrounding areas. Therefore, if adjacent populations are available recovery will be rapid. However, where the affected population is isolated or severely reduced (e.g. by long-term mechanical dredging), then recovery may be extended.

Resilience assessment.  Overall, the recovery of Arenicola marina is probably rapid.  However, should a population be severely reduced it may take some time for recolonization to occur from other populations. Therefore, where resistance is ‘Medium’ or ‘Low’ (some or significant mortality) a resilience of High is recorded but where resistance is lower (‘None’; severe mortality) a resilience of Medium (2-10 years) is recorded.

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Physical Pressures

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Additional information



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This review can be cited as:

Tyler-Walters, H. 2016. [Arenicola marina] in infralittoral fine sand or muddy sand. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 18-06-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 30/06/2016

Tags: Lugworm lug worm blow lug