Worms play an essential part in the underground ecosystem, displacing and redistributing organisms and nutrients and decaying organic matter as they make their way through the soil.
But have you ever wondered what do worms eat?
Do earthworms eat soil, dead plants and leaves, or animal prey and meat?
- Worms are best described as detritivores, than herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores.
- A detritivore will gain nutrients by eating detritus in the soil such as dead plant material and matter from other animals.
- Detritivores are creatures that consume nutrients and vitamins from decaying organic matter such as leaf litter, decaying plants, dead roots, and animal remains.
Read below to discover the answer to “are worms herbivores, carnivores, or omnivorous animals” in more detail – or whether they are categorized as something else entirely!
Is a Worm an Herbivore?
A herbivore is a creature that naturally eats plant materials and has a digestive system that is physically adapted to break down the nutrients and vitamins available in plant material.
The main source of their diet will be vegetation and plant life and their bodies will not be adapted to breaking down the fats and proteins of meat.
A worm is a herbivore in as much as it will be eating decaying plant matter, roots, grass, and leaves as it moves through the earth.
But it cannot be classified as purely a herbivore as it will also eat microscopic animals and decaying animal matter.
A herbivore is generally considered to be an animal that survives by eating plants without consuming any meat.
So it would not be entirely accurate to describe these animals as belonging to the herbivore category.
Are Worms Carnivores?
Worms are carnivores in that they will consume decaying matter from dead animals and also microscopic organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and nematodes.
Contrary to popular belief, beneficial nematodes don’t kill worms – you can see our full guide on do nematodes kill earthworms?
But their diet will be a mixture of both the living and decomposing matter of plants and animals, so it is not strictly accurate to describe them as being purely carnivores in the sense that other creatures in the animal kingdom are.
A carnivorous creature is one that has a diet where they eat meat of other animals as their main food source, and this clearly isn’t accurate for worms.
Since they are also eating plants as a substantial part, if not the majority, of their diet.
Are Worms Omnivores?
An omnivore is a creature that can consume and survive on the matter from both plants and animals.
These creatures will have the physical capacity to break down the nutrients available in plants as well as the proteins and fats available to a meat eater.
As worms will be eating decaying plant and animal material, they can be considered omnivores.
The majority of worm species will mainly consume dead plant matter and decomposing animal waste, although the majority of their nutrients come from the small microscopic animals or organisms they also consume.
Because of this, worms are actually better described as detritivores.
Are Worms Detritivores?
Worms are better described as detritivores, than herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores.
A detritivore will gain nutrients by eating detritus in the soil such as dead plant material and matter from other animals.
Detritivores are creatures that consume nutrients and vitamins from decaying organic matter such as leaf litter, decaying plants, dead roots, and animal remains.
Other detritivores include mites, flies, and beetles, and all of these animals contribute positively to their local ecosystems with their eating habits!
This describes the eating behavior of most worms a lot more accurately than relying on any of the other descriptive terms above.
Detritivores eating decaying plant and animal matter are actually an offshoot of a different category called decomposers.
Are Earthworms Decomposers?
One of the main questions concerning a worm’s diet is whether you should consider worms as herbivores or decomposers.
Well, as worms eat the decaying matter from plants and animals they could more accurately be described as detritivores, but yes, they are also decomposers.
By eating decaying plant and animal matter, worms and other decomposers contribute to the breaking down of dead matter in the soil and thus, positively contribute to the ecosystem around them.
This removal of dead material and movement in the earth helps to contribute to the health of the soil which supports the healthy growth of plants and flowers which are a food source for other animals in the food chain who will eat worms in turn!
Another benefit of worms and other decomposers eating decaying roots, plants and animals is that it helps to stop the spread of diseases which can develop in undisturbed rotting organic matter which is left to fester.
What Does a Worm Usually Eat?
What earthworms eat will depend upon which ecotype they are in.
Earthworms fall into four different natural ecotypes and their diets will be slightly different based on this.
- Endogeics earthworms eat soil benefiting from the high organic matter that it contains. These worms are eating dirt, essentially!
- Epigeic earthworms eat decaying plant matter such as rotting vegetation, leaves, and roots.
- Composting earthworms eat dead or decaying plant and animal material and manure that is just beginning to decompose.
- Anecic earthworms eat dead and decaying plant matter which they pull into their burrows within the soil.
So, as you can see, no matter which type of ecotype we are looking at, most earthworms are best described as detritivores eating plants and animals in various stages of decomposition within the soil.
Because worms eat both plant and animal material, it is easy to get confused about which category in the food chain they fall into.
Are earthworms carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, or detritivores?
As we have seen above, although worms could loosely be described as herbivores because they consume plant matter, carnivores because they consume dead animal matter, and small, microscopic animals or omnivores because they eat plants and animal material – the most accurate way to describe most earthworms is when they’re called detritivores.
Worms are most accurately described as detritivores eating decaying plant and animal material as they make their way through the soil eating what is in their path.
To be even more specific, worms can also be considered decomposers as they move, consume and displace rotting and decomposing material such as dead roots, leaf litter, and yes, worms eat manure too.
For this reason, worms are highly helpful in the production of healthy soil which helps to support the ecosystem around them.