What Are The Benefits of Earthworms? Advantages and Disadvantages of Worms to Humans

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Did you know, the famous father of evolution, Charles Darwin, published the last book of his legendary life about earthworms?

Yep, the famous Darwin wrote the last book before his death about the advantages and benefits of earthworms to the human race. 

This book is little known, but his evaluation of earthworms has been echoing in the earthworm academic circle, in which he wrote:

“Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.”

— Charles Darwin

Among his work, he also showed that if there were no earthworms, there would be no fertile land and there would be no fundamental human agricultural development.

Even elementary school students are taught that earthworms are beneficial insects and science also has mostly positive things to say.

But, there are always two sides to every story, and everyone may be deliberately ignoring their bad side. 

This article will take you the other way and get to know earthworms from a neutral perspective. Let’s look at both the pros and cons of earthworms.

The Benefits of Earthworms

Earthworms are generally hugely beneficial to the human race. 

As long as there are not too many (we explain this further below), earthworms are good for our crops and general planting. 

Some of the advantages of earthworms include:

Increased nutrient content of soil

When earthworms convert some organic matter in the soil, such as dead leaves/fruits/vegetables/feces, into vermicompost, this changes the organic NPK in the soil; Nitrogen/Phosphorus/Potassium ratio. 

These are the nutrients that exist in soil and plants depend on for survival.

Increased nutrient content of soil due to earthworms

Earthworm feces are generally high in Nitrogen and because of this, you’ll normally find Vermicompost (compost made from controlled worm farming) is also high in nitrogen. 

You can see photos we’ve uploaded to see the effect of earthworm feces

Though the total NPK in worm feces is pretty low, many people say that the use of worm feces has no effect. 

This is incorrect. NPK isn’t the end all and be all in soil health. 

Worm feces also contain beneficial microbes that can repair and maintain the quality of soil for a long time. Helping to protect the ground against being “spoiled”.

Remove heavy metals from the soil 

Another function of earthworms is to restore dead, infertile soil. 

Artificially or naturally affected heavy metal wastelands are no longer suitable for farming. 

In addition to using plants and microorganisms to cleanse the soil, earthworms can also be used to remove heavy metals and other pollutants from the soil ( 1 ).

Prevention of stroke and cerebrovascular blockage 

Earthworms can help us humans directly with our health too! 

An enzyme called earthworm kinase can be extracted from earthworms, which has been shown to dissolve blood clots ( 2 ) to help patients with vascular diseases.

Worms can be used as food 

You heard that right. Humans can eat worms

Like fried insects, some artificially cultivated and natural earthworms (and other worms) can also be considered a delicacy in over 90 countries.

Worms can be used as food 

You may not know that some cultures in the world eat earthworms in a variety of ways including: 

  • dried earthworms (earthworm jerky) 
  • earthworm soup 
  • Stir-fried earthworms 
  • canned earthworms 
  • and earthworm meatballs (with pork) 

…and many other delicious (and some, not so delicious) dishes. 

Other benefits are 

  • earthworms can decompose potassium stones in soil  ( 3
  • maintain archaeological remains ( 4 ). 

In addition, there are some more commonly known benefits, such as: 

  • loosening the soil
  • improving soil quality
  • water drainage
  • increasing the production of fruits and vegetables

Do you know why earthworms run away

Disadvantages of Earthworms

Now, let’s be fair and talk about the disadvantages of earthworms. 

Earthworms can be pests and a headache in some situations. 

Like cockroaches and mice, you can catch them and kill them, but they will return as long as their environment is good enough for them to survive and thrive.

Eating the roots of plant seedlings 

Whether in pots where flowers are grown or on farms where vegetables and fruits are grown, eating the roots of seedlings by earthworms can be an extensive problem. 

If it’s only a small amount of earthworms you’re dealing with, most of them are acceptable. 

If there are more worms in your soil, the problem of earthworms eating roots will be more serious. Especially the thinner plant roots.

Using too much organic fertilizer or when the rain is too humid can also be a catch 22. 

The roots of the plants will become soft and rotten; becoming the perfect food for earthworms to eat. The mouth of an earthworm is actually very powerful. 

Too many holes and burrows from earthworms may also negatively affect the absorption of nutrients for plant roots, causing some withering or even the death of some plants.

The opposite effect of what we usually think worms have on our plants and soil!

Too Many Worms Can Damage Lawns and Create Worm Mounds

Worm Mounds

Too many earthworms also means a TON of worm poop. Or, the more PC and technical term; more worm castings. 

This is usually the goal of worm farming. To collect highly nutritious worm casting, but the problem with too many of them, is that they are actually too full of nutrients. 

What does this mean for a lawn? Well, too many castings will actually start to burn an otherwise healthy lawn due to the excess of fertilizer, in the form of worm castings. 

Not only that, just to rub salt into the wounds, your perfectly good lawn which you’ve spent time caring for, may start showing up worm mounds. 

Worm mounds are clumps of soil that are created because of the overactivity of worms underneath in the soil. 

These mounds don’t look great to say the least. Your perfectly flat and good-looking lawn can start to look lumpy and muddy. 

If that wasn’t enough…the appearance of many earthworms can also attract worms natural enemies, such as moles, who can also accelerate destruction with their burrowing.

Ground Drainage 

Earthworms can loosen the ground by drilling holes and draining water.

This initially might seem like a good thing, but in some cases, it’s not. 

For example, the puddles in rice fields or other agricultural land are for planting, and the emergence of earthworms accelerates the loss of water and affects the harvest.

Highly aggressive species can destroy the ecological balance 

Most artificially cultivated earthworms are considered “highly aggressive”. 

Not aggressive in the sense that they’ll attack, but due to their speed of reproduction and ability to multiply quickly in numbers. 

These worms eat fast and reproduce fast. When new ecological environments, such as Malaysia or the US, are introduced to different species of earthworms deliberately or unintentionally, it can fundamentally disrupt the original eco balance of the area. 

This may sound like nothing, but the impact on the biological chain is actually very serious, especially for some small animals/plants, which can indirectly lead to the disappearance of some species in the local area.

Erosion and Weathering of Stone

Earthworms are not only present in the wild suburbs or where there is wetland. 

While entire buildings collapsing due to worms would be an extreme case, it has long been known that earthworms cause weathering of rocks (the breakdown of rocks through digging) 

Host parasitic nematodes

Although the earthworm itself is not a parasite, because it has existed in a moist and rotting environment for a long time, lung nematodes will also exist on it. 

parasitic nematodes

This is why chickens, ducks, birds and fish or other farmers use live feed very carefully. 

In some countries it’s even illegal to feed worms to livestock.

If a batch of earthworms is of poor quality for some reason, your farm and livestock may suffer losses. 

You can find out more about earthworms vs nematodes.

Overall, are worms a benefit or a disadvantage to us? 

To give our little worm friends credit for an entire industry like farming and agriculture is a huge responsibility on their little, non-existent shoulders.

Because of this, you’d have to say they’re of net benefit to humans overall among the other advantages they provide us. 

But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect and it pays to know what situations they can become pests in our lives. Overall, they’ve done more good than bad for us. 

If they’re good enough for Darwin, they should be good enough for you.