As nature lovers, we’ve all seen holes in leaves, petals, fruits and vegetables that look like little bubbles have popped, either leaving holes or missing chunks from our vegetation. In some cases, we simply assume that the worms have gotten to them.
However, interestingly enough, it will not be your friend the earthworm who has left those holes in your growing vegetation. In fact, worms do not have the capacity to leave such precise teeth marks.
No, worms do not have teeth. Instead, they use their gizzards to grind up their food, once it has move past their mouths. Let’s take a look at how all of this works in practice.
What does a worm have instead of teeth?
A worm has gizzards, or an array of muscles, to help break down the food they consume.
A worm’s mouth is also not what you may assume it to be, as they lack tongues and other common mouth parts we usually see in other animals.
They generally pull food in and break down their meals as they go. They have no need for teeth in the traditional sense.
Worms ingest food through pulsating muscles that allow them to gradually break things down.
Worms swallow pieces of dead animals and soil in such a way that you would likely not want to invite them to dinner any time soon.
We will go into this in a bit more detail further down in this guide.
Do Worms Bite?
Since they do not have teeth, it is fair to say that you and your loved ones are not in danger of getting a worm bite any time soon.
Earthworms neither bite nor sting. In fact, they are very docile creatures that pose little to no threat to any living thing.
Although some may find their presence intimidating, due to their snake-like bodies (albeit a lot smaller), and their lack of facial expressions, nor indeed any facial features that are recognisable to most people; earthworms are very trustworthy.
They will not cause you any harm, nor to those around you, be they animal or human.
In fact, you may be interested to know that earthworms will not even harm your live vegetation. Contrary to popular belief, earthworms do not in fact eat living things, be them plant or other.
Instead, worms consume the organic decaying matter that they find in the soil.
So, how do the worms eat their food without teeth?
Do Worms Have Mouth Parts?
Despite their evident lack of teeth, worms do indeed have mouths, and very strong ones at that. Their mouths are at the head of the earthworm, just like us.
Of course, given that worms look fairly similar all over, it can be difficult to locate where the mouth is. In actual fact, it is very easy to locate.
To locate the worm’s head, simply locate the clitellum first. The clitellum is the lighter coloured band that surrounds one part of the worm’s body. The shortest side of the earthworm next to the clitellum is its head.
Then, you need simply look at the tip of its head to locate its mouth.
However, despite you being able to locate it, it is likely that you still will not be able to determine what is going on in and around its mouth, so let us explain: worms have mouths over which an extended body part (somewhat resembling a lip), is used to help direct their food into their mouths.
At the back of their mouths, they have a very strong pharynx (throat), which then pulls the food towards it, layers it with saliva, and pushes it down through the oesophagus and into what is called the crop, where it is then stored.
Eventually, the food then reaches the gizzard where it is ground up before being sent into the intestines to be broken down even more. An earthworm’s intestine actually takes up the majority of its body.
Much like us, some of the food will be used for energy for the earthworm, and the rest will be sent out through the anus in the form of worm castings, or worm poop.
Do Any Worm Species Have Teeth?
Although earthworms are completely tooth-free, there are indeed certain worm species that have teeth to an extent.
Arguably the least intimidating teeth-wise is the roundworm. Their teeth are nearly impossible to see with a naked eye, as they only have two claw-shaped teeth at the back of their mouths, behind a row of mouth bristles.
That being said, roundworms are not the only worms with teeth, and there are other species that inflict a little more pain when they bite.
Eunice Aphroditois, more commonly known as the Bobbit worm, is a worm that can be found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean, the Indo-Pacific, and even on certain coral reefs.
This worm ranges from about 10cm to 3 cm, which understandably, does not sound so intimidating.
However, by burrowing beneath the sand on the ocean floor, the Bobbit worm waits for prey to arrive, then strikes them using its strong teeth.
They have been known to bite through some of their prey, even cutting certain fish in half.
Due to their small size, if a human is bitten by a Bobbit worm it is very unlikely that it caused a life-threatening injury.
That being said, a human will definitely feel the bite and will likely be left with at least a nasty mark.
However, it is important to remember that these types of worms are found at the bottom of oceans and on certain coral reefs. You are therefore not in any frequent or prevalent danger.
In conclusion, earthworms do not have teeth of any kind. They do however have very impressive and strong mouths that they use every day.
Their mouths are no less impressive than those of other creatures, and are of an intricate and fascinating design, as you have seen.
Unlike most mammals, neither baby worms nor mature worms have teeth. Instead, they have very muscular mouths on their ‘front ends’ through which they swallow pieces of decaying organic matter – including the bacteria from dead animals that can be found in the dirt, other living organisms such as decaying vegetation, decaying leaves, and more.
So, no – don’t expect to get a nibble from even a mature worm any time soon.