All earthworms, believe it or not, are hermaphrodites.
All earthworms are equipped with both male and female reproductive organs, making them a species that has to perform both male and female parts when they mate.
In fact, they are one of many animals that happen to be hermaphrodites. Others include clownfish, land snails, starfish, frogs, lizards, etc.
Earthworms do not have genders – as they all have the same reproductive systems.
So, as hermaphrodites without a set gender:
- how do earthworms reproduce?
- Can that procreate alone?
- And how do they create their offspring?
- Do they get pregnant?
- Do they lay eggs?
Let’s go through it in more detail…
Are worms gendered?
No, worms are not gendered. As hermaphrodites, they all have both male and female reproductive organs.
During their sexual intercourse, both worms will be using both sets of reproductive organs, i.e. using both their eggs and sperm to complete fertilization within the other.
It is therefore impossible and pointless to attempt to gender earthworms – no matter how hard you might try.
Do worms reproduce sexually or asexually?
As these fascinating creatures have both male and female reproductive organs, it is only natural to wonder how they procreate.
Do they use both sets of organs simultaneously? Can they reproduce alone, or asexually?
Well, since both worms perform both the male and female functions during sex, they are known as being simultaneous hermaphrodites.
In most species, it takes two worms to create eggs in both, however, there are indeed some species of earthworm that can manage procreation alone, making them capable of asexual reproduction.
Although there are indeed some specimens that can create offspring alone, it is quite rare. Most worms will need to go through the mating process in order to create any more worms.
Do worms get pregnant?
Worms are oviparous, meaning they do not get pregnant in the typical manner and do not give birth to live young.
Here is the process:
- During reproduction, the two worms align each facing in the opposite direction to the other.
- During copulation, both worms create an extensive amount of mucus, creating a slime tube around their bodies.
- Then, each worm ejects their reproductive fluid into the slime tube before the sperm reaches the other’s sperm receptacle.
- Once the act has finished, each worm moves on, however, the procreation has yet to occur.
- The clitellum on each worm (the light-colored band on the front end of the earthworm), runs along the worm’s body, towards their head, and thus creates another tube of mucus, one that captures the worm’s egg sacks.
- The slime tube also catches the sperm contained in the receptacle, thus combining the stem with the eggs in the slime tube, fertilizing the eggs.
- The worm then deposits the slime tube, creating a cocoon in an oval shape.
- Within approximately three weeks, newborn earthworms will hatch from their eggs.
Thankfully for us humans and other lifeforms, earthworms can reproduce approximately every seven to ten days, making it relatively easy to increase earthworm populations.
Of course, for those of us with worm bins, compost piles, and/or vermicomposting systems, it is evident how quickly worm populations can grow, and how much space we need to keep it going.
Worms do not have a gender as they are hermaphrodites and don’t need to in order to produce offspring. They need to produce often to survive and being a hermaphrodite helps worm populations in your soil.