There are sub species of earthworms and those that we see commonly in the gardens are garden earthworms. These earthworms can either have invasive or beneficial impact, depending on whether they’re native area inhabitants. Here are pictures and descriptions:
Species of Worms:
These epigean earthworms have been used commercially since the early 1900s. They feed and live exclusively on decaying manure, vegetation, or compost. Just like other worms, they can move faster to hide from predators such as birds. The best place to find brandlings is near livestock farms because they thrive on animal waste. You might see them crawling along fences or under sheds. In addition, they’re often seen burrowing beneath garden paths where they create tunnels that allow rainwater to drain off easily. They are good for fishing bait.
This is a tropical earthworm native to the Himalayan mountains and later spread to North American. Unlike many other earthworms, composter worms prefer moist conditions and will happily survive without food for extended periods. Their primary purpose is to break down vegetable material left lying around outdoors.
As they work, they produce castings. When finished, the castings become an ideal medium for growing vegetables. Castings contain high levels of nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and trace metals, including iron, copper, zinc, and manganese. They thrive mostly in moist environments and temperatures above 15°C.
Giant Gippsland Earthworm are also known as giant Australian red wigglers. Like their smaller cousins, they eat organic matter and excrete casts. However, unlike ARWs, giant gippies grow up to 30-40 inches long and weigh about 200 grams. They spend much of their lives underground feeding on roots and fungi.
During winter, they hibernate inside soil cracks and crevices. The front part of this worm is dark purple. The rest of its body is pink-gray. You can find these worms in moist and deep soil areas. They usually create complicated burrows of up to 2-5 feet. They feed mainly on plant debris and dead insects.
Redheads are one of the largest species of earthworms in Western Europe. These worms are also widespread in temperate regions of south and north America. They are omnivorous and feed on both plants and animals. They are active at night and during rainy weather. They tend to stay close to the surface of the ground and avoid dry soils.
They are generally nocturnal creatures and come out after sunset. They are attracted by light and heat sources. To catch them, use a flashlight or torchlight. Once caught, put them into a bucket with some water. This helps keep them alive until you get home.
This earthworm is primarily found in the UK. It lives in the upper layer of soil and feeds primarily on leaf litter. Its grayish brown color makes it easy to spot when digging through soil. Its diet consists primarily of decaying leaves and grasses. It measures 2-3 inches long and has a lifespan of two years but may live longer if kept warm and fed well.
If not properly cared for, gray worms can die within weeks. An excellent way to care for your own grays is to provide plenty of fresh leafy greens and cuttings. Keep them in damp locations that don’t freeze over completely each year.
Native to West Africa, this worm spread to other warm and tropical regions such as South America and Australia. In fact, there are more than 20 different types of nightcrawlers living throughout the world today.
They move quickly across land surfaces and swimming underwater. Some even possess venomous spines, which allow them to defend themselves from predators. All night crawlers need access to oxygenated air, so they must be exposed to sunlight. They’re most commonly seen near streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, ditches, irrigation channels, and drainage systems.
They typically inhabit wet places where vegetation grows thickly. Many people consider them pests because they destroy crops and gardens. But, they do help decompose waste materials and enrich the soil. So, while they might seem destructive, they actually play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Washington Giant Earthworm
The name “giant” refers to the size of this worm. It was first discovered in Washington State in 1897. At the time, scientists believed that only small earthworms existed in North America. Then, in 2010, another type of large earthworm was discovered in California.
Scientists named him the Californian Giant Earthworm. He measured nearly 10 inches long. Since then, many new varieties of giant earthworms have been discovered around the globe. There are currently five known species of giant earthworms in existence.
Each one differs slightly from the others. However, they all look alike. Their bodies range between 3 – 7 feet long and weigh up to 1 pound. They eat mainly plant matter, including roots, stems, flowers, fruits, seeds, bulbs, moss, algae, fungi, lichens, and deadwood.
Like their smaller cousins, these worms prefer moist environments. They thrive best in areas with lots of organic material. These include forests, meadows, wetlands, bogs, fens, prairies, savannas, orchards, vineyards, pastures, lawns, parks, playgrounds, golf courses, cemeteries, compost piles, manure heaps, and any place else you’d expect an earthworm to reside.
This worm is native to the eastern United States. It prefers warmer climates and humid conditions. The average adult length is 5 inches. This worm eats both plants and animals. It also helps break down organic debris by burrowing it into the ground. When it does dig, its tunnels create pathways for water and nutrients to flow freely. Because of this, Kentucky earthworms are often used to improve soil quality. They’re especially beneficial during times of drought. During dry periods, Kentucky earthworms will migrate underground to find moisture. Once they’ve found enough, they’ll return to surface level to feed on decaying leaves and grasses. If temperatures get too cold, they may hibernate until springtime, when the weather warms again.
Louisiana Mud Worm
These worms live in mudflats along coastal regions. They can grow up to 6 inches long. They spend much of their lives buried deep within the muddy sediment. As soon as the tide goes out, they come back above ground to hunt for food. They primarily consume bacteria, microorganisms, and detritus. They don’t require light but rather rely on the heat generated through metabolism. They reproduce every two years. After mating, females lay eggs inside the sand. Larvae hatch after several weeks. New adults emerge once the larvae mature.
Oregon Giant Earthworm
Native in North America, this worm measures 5-6 inches long. It’s most active at night. Its diet consists mostly of leaf litter and other vegetation. In addition, it consumes some animal waste, such as bird droppings. It has a lifespan of 2-3 years. Unlike other types of earthworms, Oregon giants do not need oxygen to survive. Instead, they use carbon dioxide for breathing. They produce mucous, which protects them against pathogens. Mucous also allows them to absorb more oxygen than normal earthworms.
Native to Western Europe, this earthworm species is also referred to as lobworm or dew worm. They’re also found in Asia, South and North America, Oceania, and Africa. It’s basically an invasive earthworm species, which feeds on living organisms like insects, slugs, snails, mollusks, fish, frogs, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians!
They’re considered pests because they destroy crops and gardens. Some people consider them good luck charms. Others think they bring bad fortune. Still, others believe they cause illness. But some say they help cleanse our environment. Regardless of your opinion, common earthworms are still very important to ecosystems. They play a vital role in recycling nutrients. They also provide habitat for invertebrates, vertebrate herbivores, and predatory arthropods.
The green worm, commonly known as the garden worm, is one of the largest earthworms in existence. Native to the UK, these worms have been introduced throughout the world. They prefer moist environments with high levels of humidity. Their preferred temperature range is between 50°F – 80°F. These worms eat plant material, including roots, tubers, bulbs, fruits, seeds, stems, flowers, mosses, fungi, lichens, and deadwood. They also prey upon insect larvae, nematodes, and small crustaceans.
European Nightcrawler are sometimes called “black earthworms” or “night crawlers,” are large, dark brownish-red worms that occur worldwide. They measure from 3–4 cm in diameter. They are usually found near damp areas where rotting matter accumulates. They thrive best in warm, wet soils rich in humic acid. They are omnivorous, eating both vegetable and animal materials. They are scavengers, feeding mainly on carrion and feces.
Categories of Earthworms
Earthworms can be separated into three categories, and it is possible to define these by the environment inhabited by the worm. These three earthworm types are epigeic worms, (the surface dewllers), endogeic earthworms, (ones that live underground), and the anecic worms, (ones living below soil but also explore above soil levels to find food sources).
Thus, it is vital to understand and note down differences in types of worms to know diverse roles in the ecosystem. For example, a worm that is good for composting will most likely be an epicgeic worm, as these worms voraciously feed and excrete nutrients quickly for decomposing the compost.
A skilled gardener can move the worms in compost to garden soil to improve the quality of oil. However, as these earthworms don’t burrow and don’t live well below the soil, they won’t do much when kept among the plants.
Epifeic earthworms -In Greek language the word Epigeic means on the earth. These worms are called epigeic as these don’t build burrows and rather reside among the decaying organic matter on the surface of the soil. Sometimes these worms are also known as compost earthworms, surface-dwelling earthworms as they reside on the soil surface among compost heaps or leaves piles. They are smaller than polyclad earthworms, averaging between 4 and 6 inches long.
They feed on leaf litter, dung and decaying plant matter. These worms are weak burrowers, and don’t prefer living among topsoil and loose organic materials.
They’ve got dark coloring enabling them to safely live above the ground, while camouflaging themselves in leaf pile or topsoil. The dark pigmentation protects them from the Ultra Voilet rays.
They’ve got strong muscles for their size letting them move quickly compared to other worms.
Endogenic Worms – The word Endogenic translates from the Greek, meaning within the earth and accordingly, these worms burrow in top soil layers and can rarely be up in the surface, preferring literally living in earth. These worms are found commonly in uppermost soil layers where they have horizontal semi-permanent burrows or under logs and rocks, and some burrow deep within the soil.
They generally only come up on ground surface in heavy rain as extra moisture helps them avoid drying. These earthworms are quite small in size and typically measure around one to twelve inches. Their appearance is translucent, pale and colorless, and they’ve got weak muscles compared to egipeic worms meaning that they can slowly move. About 95% of all earthworms are endogeic, and they make up about 40% of all polyclads. The largest endogeic ever found was over 25 feet long.
Anecic Earthworms – the Greek word Anecic means out of earth as although such worms live below the ground, they’re at soil level for the food. These worms are the ones that are vertically burrowed in mineral soil layers and create permanent burrows that are as deep as six feet below the surface level.
The name anecic means living on the surface of the soil. Anecic earthworms are generally smaller than endogeic, averaging only 2-3 inches long because they must stay near the surface where there are more oxygen and fewer fungi that would kill them if they dug deeper into the ground.
The burrow systems are extensive and can measure as large as a diameter.
Some Facts about Earthworm
Earthworms are not beautiful looking creatures but regardless of their displeasing and slimy appearance, they have a vital role in the ecosystem, and are extremely beneficial to the humans.
Let’s know what goodness do earthworms have for the humans?
- There are about 6,000 species or more earthworm species worldwide. The most familiar one is the common garden worm. The earthworm is also known as night crawler.
- Without having lungs or any special respiratory organs, earthworms use their skin for breathing
- The earthworm skin produces a lubrication fluid for making the underground burrowing simple and it helps to make the skin moist.
- The earthworm has five hearts, two located on either side of its body near its head that contract rhythmically throughout its life to pump blood through vessels called capillaries. Earthworms have nephridia which are organs that extract soluble waste products from the blood while passing reabsorbed materials back to the blood.
- Earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexes and produce both sperm and eggs. They mate on earth surface, while pressing their bodies and exchanging sperm before they separate.
- The worms eat dirt because soil consists of rocks, minerals, water, gases, organic matter, and all the living things that live in the soil including other animals like insects, beetles, ants, moles etc.
- The digestive system of an earthworm is straight tube coming from its mouth at front end, its rear where the digested matter is excreted to the outside.
- The earthworm can live for 4 to 12 years depending on its species and environmental factors such as temperature and moisture conditions.
- They can regenerate their body parts if severed.
How Do EarthWorms Move?
Earthworms use muscles for extending their bodies while moving forward. After extending they also extend tiny structures similar to hair known as satae from their bodies into soil. The setae can act like an anchor so the worms are able to pull bodies of the rear part forward. After the body’s back part becomes advanced, earthworms can retract setae from front of the bodies and then insert other setae which are positioned in back of their bodies. It lets them anchor once more, this time they push front halves forward.
Effect of their movements
Earthworm movement forms small tunnels through the soil. Their process of burrowing aerates the soil, letting the air and water pass through freely. The aeration in turn, can be beneficial for the plants and lets them have better moisture and air access and provides and is conducive to root structure growth.
As earthworms make way through soil, they can also deposit waste which is rich in fertilization of compounds like nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium.
Earthworms are vital species for balancing the environment’s food chain for small and medium size animals like fishes, raccoons and birds. Earthworms can also aerate to break the soil while feeding on less organic nutrients.
Importance of Earthworms
Earthworms are very important because they turn over the soil which helps it stay healthier longer. This is because they move through the dirt-eating and pooping, and that acts like fertilizers. They also help plants grow faster while releasing valuable nutrients into the soil through their waste. Earthworm cocoons can be bought so you can raise them in a bin in your house and feed them old dirt and food scraps. This is very helpful to gardeners and people who want to grow plants because it gives them more worms for their garden.
What do Earthworms Feed on?
Earthworms consume both microorganisms and organic matter. Earthworms feed on leaves and dead grass if they’re above the ground surface. Worms can also feed on berries, vegetables and fruits. However, if earthworms are below the ground, they can also feed on fungi, bacteria and fungi. If you’re keeping earthworms as pets, they can be fed a mixture of fruits and vegetable remains with moist soil.
Earthworms also feed mostly on organic decomposing matter, like dead plants, roots leaves and manure. All these nutrients later become concentrated in the digestive system of the worm and are later released back in soil in excreted cast of earthworms. Such casts have abundance of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen, and they’re left often in burrows of the worm. It means that the burrows inside the surface of the soil have nutrients readily available for plant roots.
According to some studies the soil gets digested and excreted through earthworms and is five times rich in nitrogen compared to soil that isn’t digested. Other than that, some worm tunnels help in moving fertilizer applications below the soil where they are utilized more efficiently by plants.
What Eats Earthworms?
While having alive worm populations is vital for the plants and soil, worms are also a vital source of food for a lot of predators, like birds. Without the availability of earthworm populations for feeding, some creatures like land snails, would easily decline.
Varieties of fly larvae feed on the earthworms like the Onesia and Bellardia related to the Pollenia. Also some beetles are earthworm predators, mainly the rove beetles and large ground beetles like devil’s coach horse. Centipedes also feed on earthworms and although it isn’t quite common but spiders have also been reported to feed on earthworms.
Earthworms are also food sources for larger animals, and it is common to see a bird tugging earthworms from the ground, or also gulls and other fish drumming their feet for bringing the earthworms up to the surface. Earthworms are also major sources of food for badgers, hedgehogs, foxes and moles and there are other small animals feeding on earthworms as well.
All such animals are part of the environment and don’t cause any decline in populations of the earthworm or soil issues. Also, many species of flatworms have led significant decline in populations of earthworms in New Zealand towns like Scotland.
Are Earthworms Important?
The main feed of worms is rooting and decaying organic matter as this process is helpful in breaking down the materials and allowing them to be fed on through fungi and bacteria. Such micro life forms are vital in helping in decomposition of compost and they are also vital part of the ecosystem. The fungi and bacteria thrive on the released nutrients by earthworms and they’re a vital food source for other creatures inhabiting soil. The rich soil in worm casts would most likely have 1000 times more beneficial bacteria compared to soil which doesn’t houses worms.
Earthworms can improve the structure of soil after making burrows and opening spaces in the soil. The physical alteration means that soluble nutrients and water easily travel down to roots of the plants. According to research it is shown the worm burrowing can also improve filtration of water by more than 10 times. For such reason, soil that gets inhabited with the worms doesn’t have much flash flooding chances.
The worm made tunnels go deep within the soil while improving the drainage for protecting rooting of plant roots. These burrows also make airways helping in aeration of soil.
How Long Do Earthworms Live?
The life expectancy of earthworms varies based on the particular species. The average lifespan of a night crawler is around six to nine years and it has also been reported to live more than 20 years. The red earthworms generally live around two to five years. The gray worms spending their lives in soil surface live around 1.25 and 2.6 years on an average.
In their life spans, earthworms developed some habits and food preferences and they have the way of showing when they require perpetually moist environments, somewhere in 50 to 90 percent of the humidity range.
It is possible to see an earthworm anywhere where is it relatively warm and moist. When the weather and food conditions aren’t right for earthworm, they do dormant until things change in their favor. Their dormant state is known as aestivation (similar to the hibernation state) but is more efficient – they stop living as they don’t need food, moving or reproducing. They come out again when the food weather and moisture is adequate for them.