1. ITV Report

'Citizen scientists' sought to study worm's sex life

Lugworm casts on Llanfairfechan beach. Photo: Prifysgol Bangor University

Love is in the air along our coastlines this autumn and Bangor University is asking people in north Wales to keep an eye out for signs of passion in the lugworm population.

The lugworm – Arenicola marina - is a vital source of food for wader birds and fish, and the species plays an important role in fisheries as a source of bait.

But spending their lives burrowed deep in the sediment, opportunities to find the perfect mate are limited. Instead, the males release sperm which collects in ‘puddles’ on the surface of the sand. When the tide comes in, the sperm is washed down into the burrows of the females and fertilises her eggs.

Very specific environmental conditions are needed to trigger the release of the sperm and the egg at the same time and very little is known about the process.

Whistling Sands beach. Credit: Prifysgol Bangor University

Now scientists are calling on members of the public to join the project as ‘citizen scientists’ and help to fill in the knowledge gaps.

Dubbed ‘Spermwatch’, the project is part of a wider conservation project called Capturing Our Coast, a partnership between universities, conservation and research organisations including Bangor University, Newcastle University, Marine Conservation Society and Earthwatch. Capturing our Coast is a three year programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Anyone who takes a walk at low tide on a sandy beach will be familiar with the coiled casts of lugworms. This project allows us, through engaging with hundreds of citizen scientists, to get deeper insight into their reproductive life around the UK. Such simultaneous observations over a broad geographic area simply wouldn’t be possible through any other mean.

– Professor Stuart Jenkins, Bangor University, School of Ocean Sciences