To elucidate the quaternary structure of the extracellular haemoglobin (Hb) of the marine polychaete Arenicola marina (lugworm) it was subjected to multi-angle laser-light scattering (MALLS) and to electrospray-ionisation mass spectrometry (ESI-MS). It was also subjected to SDS/PAGE analysis for comparative purposes. MALLS analysis gave a molecular mass of 3648 +/- 24 kDa and a gyration radius of 11.3 +/- 1.7 nm. Maximum entropy analysis of the multiply charged electrospray spectra of the native, dehaemed, reduced and carbamidomethylated Hb forms, provided its complete polypeptide chain and subunit composition. We found, in the reduced condition, eight globin chains of molecular masses 15952.5 Da (a1), 15974.8 Da (a2), 15920.9 Da (b1), 16020.1 Da (b2), 16036.2 Da (b3), 16664.8 Da (c), 16983.2 Da (d1), 17033.1 Da (d2) and two linker chains L1, 25174.1 Da, and L2, 26829.7 Da. In the native Hb, chains b, c, d occur as five disulphide-bonded trimer subunits T with masses of 49560.4 Da (T1), 49613.9 Da (T2), 49658.6 Da (T3), 49706.8 Da (T4), 49724.5 Da (T5). Linker chains L1 and L2 occur as one disulphide-bonded homodimer 2L1 (D1) of 50323.1 Da and one disulphide-bonded heterodimer L1-L2 (D2) of 51 981.5 Da. Polypeptide chains a and d possess one free cysteine residue and chains d possess an unusual total of five cysteine residues. Semi-quantitative analysis of ESI-MS data allowed us to propose the following model for the one-twelfth protomer: [(3a1)(3a2)2T] (T corresponding to either T3, T4 or T5). From electron micrograph data T1 and T2 are probably located at the centre of the molecule as mentioned in previous studies. The Hb would thus be composed of 198 polypeptide chains with 156 globin chains and 42 linker chains, each twelfth being in contact with 3.5 linker subunits, providing a total mass of 3682 kDa including haems in agreement with the experimental molecular mass determined by MALLS. From ESI-MS relative intensities and the model proposed above, the globin/linker ratio gave 0.71:0.29 and 0.73:0.27, respectively. The estimation of haem content by pyridine haemochromogen and by cyanmethaemoglobin (HiCN) methods also support the globin chain number provided by ESI-MS.