Eastern Sea Worm Company
Stetson H. Everett
Box 55
Hancock, Maine 04640
TEL: 1-207-422-6822
FAX: 1-207-422-6444
email: severett306@roadrunner.com

The Natural History of the Bloodworm

The bloodworm (Glycera dibranchiata) belongs to a phylum of animals know as the Annelids. This group of organisms usually has an elongated, cylindrical shaped body consisting of a series of similar segments. Bloodworm are marine in nature and inhabit the intertidal and subtidal regions of mud flats. They can survive in areas with low oxygen levels and have the ability to tolerate fluctuating salinity rates. Bloodworms are found along the Atlantic seaboard from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Florida, as well as through the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. They also exist on the West coast from California to Mexico.

These worms are creamy pink and have minute fleshy projections called parapodia which function during movement and respiration. Their common name "bloodworm" most likely originated from the fact that their red body fluid is visible though their pale translucent skin. Another distinguishing feature of these creatures is their large eversible proboscis which is armed with four poisonous jaws. Many a careless worm digger or fisherman has felt their painful bite.

A bloodworm's body can grow to be fifteen inches in length and be three-eighth inches in diameter. Their growth is dependent upon diet, temperature and salinity. Bloodworms are most abundant in the middle portion of the tidal flats. They feed on marine worms, mollusks and other invertebrates while burrowing through mud or sand.

In comparison to some other polychaetes, bloodworms are poor swimmers. However, they are excellent burrowers using their conical prostomium or lip, stiff parapodia, and peristaltic motion. Bloodworms sense through the use of tactile cells which are primarily located in their head area. An anterior brain receives impulses from a large ventral nerve cord, that runs from the anterior to the posterior end of the worm.

Bloodworms have separate sexes. Spawning is initiated during the middle of June, just prior to high tide. Water temperature is critical for spawning to occur. Suitable temperatures range from 55 degrees to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Male worms spawn first followed by the females. Mature females may produce up to ten million eggs. After fertilization, the eggs rapidly change into larvae. Evidence suggest that the mortality rate is high on larval populations during this stage of their development. In two years, bloodworms reach a size where they can be harvested by worm diggers. The majority of the larger bloodworms taken in this fishery are probably in their third year of life. Very few often live to be four or five years old.

The bloodworm industry in Maine is a multimillion dollar a year business. Bloodworms are collected by worm diggers in the shallow mud of the tidal flats. The bloodworms are then brought to dealers by the diggers. Payment to the diggers is a daily or weekly basis depending on the dealer. At the dealers, the bloodworms are sorted and packed so that they can be shipped to markets located both here and abroad. Ultimately, the bloodworms are sold as bait to anxious sports fishermen who prize their effectiveness.

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