Chemical communication systems controlling reproductive behaviour have been shown in a number of marine polychaetes. This study investigated the use of sex pheromones to coordinate spawning behaviour in gravid lugworms (Arenicola marina). Lugworms typically reproduce in the autumn, during low water of spring tides, and often exhibit epidemic spawning. Females release gametes within the burrow whereas males deposit spermatozoa on to the beach surface. The incoming tide dilutes the spermatozoa and transports them to the females’ burrows. Sperm is diluted rapidly and sperm concentrations fall below the minimum required for fertilization within a few minutes. The present investigation establishes the existence of chemical signals synchronizing spawning for the first time in an iteroparous polychaete. The process can be divided into two steps, the induction of gamete release by waterborne chemical cues and burrow irrigation behaviour in females: burrow irrigation representing the means by which spermatozoa are carried to the eggs. In both sexes, the release of gametes can be induced by exposure to sea water into which other individuals had previously spawned. Males also respond to odour compounds from other males. The overall effect of the chemical signals results in synchronized, mass spawning of a population.