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What is Ragworm?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A ragworm is a type of annelid worm which lives along the Atlantic shoreline in both North America and Europe. The worms can also be found in parts of the Mediterranean, and they are extremely abundant, providing a source of food to many wading birds and larger ocean creatures. Some fishermen are familiar with ragworms, as they are commonly used as bait, and they are available at many fishing supply stores in both fresh and frozen states.

Depending on regional dialects, ragworms may also be known as sandworms or clamworms. Biologists classify a large number of worms in the Nereidae family as ragworms, especially those in the Nereis genus. There are a number of physical differences between the various species of ragworms, but they all share the segmented bodies which are a crucial classifying characteristic for annelid worms. Ragworms also tend to be be slightly flattened, and they are extremely good at burrowing, making J or S shaped holes in the sand for shelter.

Depending on the species, a ragworm may be an active predator, pursuing an assortment of small ocean creatures and sifting through the mud for food, or it may be a scavenger. Some ragworms mix both behaviors, opportunistically taking advantage of whatever food comes their way. Ragworms also line their bodies with stiff bristles which the animals use to navigate in the ocean and mud that they call home.

These worms can live from one to three years, depending on how long it takes them to reach maturity. Once ragworms reach their maturity, they spawn once before dying, typically producing a large number of fertile eggs which will develop into a new generation of ragworms. Like many worms, the ragworm has evolved over millions of years, establishing a system of life and reproduction which seems to be quite effective for these abundant animals.

Bait supply companies may breed ragworms to ensure a constant supply for fishermen who like to use them. Typically, when used as bait, the worms are not fully mature, making them smaller and therefore easier to handle. Ragworms are also used as a source of food in aquaculture, as they can be reasonably nutritious and they are easy to breed.

You may be able to find a ragworm if you happen to live along the Atlantic shoreline. Try digging in the mud around a local estuary, as ragworms often enjoy estuary habitats. In addition to unearthing a ragworm or two, you may find some other interesting marine animals.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By MrSmirnov — On Jul 18, 2011

Ragworms may be an ugly looking bug but they make great fishing bait and are often sold along the Atlantic coastline to avid fishermen.

For those who are used to fishing with little fish worms, ragworms are a completely different story. They can get pretty big and need to be handled carefully so that you don't get nipped. You need to make sure you pierce them right behind their head with your hook so they aren't as likely to take a bite out of you. They can even hang on if they get a good grip on you.

Beware of the greenish colored ragworms as they have the nastiest bite and you'll regret touching it for a long while to come.

By animegal — On Jul 17, 2011

I was once on the Atlantic coast and had the misfortune of stumbling onto a ragworm. It was honestly one of the most hideous bugs I have ever seen. I was more horrified to learn that apparently ragworms have teeth and can bite you if you aren't careful. There are different size ragworms, so I am assuming them biting only applies to the king variety.

According to the uncle in my area apparently a lot of ragworms are captured by children and kept as pets until one of the kids gets bitten then out it goes. Like any bug bite it can be very unpleasant and needs to be treated to prevent infections.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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