Earthworms are one of the most useful animals and can quickly help your farm or garden prosper.
For more information on types of earthworms and how they can help you, keep reading.
What Are Earthworms?
They are invertebrates that live in soil and sewage.
They provide many benefits to humans and agriculture by improving soil quality and promoting plant growth.
Types Of Earthworms According To Their Sizes Or Colors
The first thing you should know about earthworms is that they come in many different sizes and colors.
Different types of earthworms live in different regions worldwide, but there are four main groups:
- Epigeic earthworms
- Endogeic earthworms
- Anecic earthworms
- Aquatic worms
They live in the top layer of soil where they help improve conditions for plant growth.
These types of surface dwelling earthworms can pack a punch as compost worms as they have a voracious appetitie.
These earthworms eat from 1/2 up to their whole bodyweight per day!
They burrow through the soil, bringing nutrients to the surface and aerating the ground.
They also break down organic material into compost that other animals or plants can use.
Epigeic worms are very sensitive animals, so they easily die if exposed to sunlight, chemicals, or pesticides.
However, they’re extremely important because of how many species there are.
Here are some examples of these types of earthworms.
Red wigglers are a type of earthworm that are used for composting (sometimes known as a tiger worm for their stripes).
They thrive in organic matter and are generally surface dwellers among leaf litter looking for food scraps.
They create shallow tunnels as they make horizontal burrows into the soil, which helps to aerate soil, improves soil structure and break down material into compost.
Red wigglers are non-toxic and can be safely used in compost piles with other types of worms. Though you may wish to stick to one variety for ease of maintenance.
They are the most popular compost worms in vermicomposting because of their surface dwelling nature and the way they rapidly consume organic matter.
It’s as simple as putting food in the top layer of your worm bin and letting these compost earthworms go to work in delivering you high quality worm casts.
Noctilucent (Night-Shining) Worms
These are another species of epigeic worm that live in the arctic tundra. They leave their burrows to feed at night when it is cooler than during the day.
These epigeic earthworms species are obviously not helpful to your garden, unless you live in the arctic!
They live underwater and eat decaying leaves and vegetation. So, though they live underwater, they are still classified as epigeic earthworms as they feed on leaf litter on the surface of river beds.
They’re common in freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams all over the world.
These worms live deeper in the soil than epigeic earthworms, but shallower than anecic earthworms.
They typically don’t migrate as much as other types of earthworms since they stay underground.
They prefer slightly warmer temperatures than epigeic worms, but they don’t like the soil surface too often.
Here are some examples of endogeic earthworms.
This worm lives in Europe and the Mediterranean, and the worms you’ll find here are bright red.
They can survive desiccation (drying out), which is useful for surviving extreme conditions.
These worms live all over North America, from Canada to Mexico.
They grow from 5 to 12 inches long, and they’re a reddish-brown color with skin that allows air to flow throughout their bodies and allows them to breathe, similar to most earthworms.
These types of earthworms live deep underground where their food sources are located, creating permanent vertical burrows (deeper than endogeic earthworms).
They don’t migrate. Instead, they eat bits of organic material as they come near them.
These worms are important for soil fertility because their burrows increase oxygen content and drainage to lower soil layers.
Here are some examples of anecic earthworms.
This is one worm that lives all over North America, but originates from Europe (you’ll often hear of European Nightcrawlers most commonly).
The name “nightcrawler” might have given it away一these resilient creatures typically stay in the soil but after dark, they also come above ground to feed. They occassionally do during the day too.
They’re often used for fishing bait and can also make a good compost worm in deeper worm bins as they like to burrow deep.
African Night Crawler
This worm lives in Africa and is even bigger than your typical nightcrawler.
Not to be confused with the African Giant Earthworm (Microchaetus rappi), that is thought to grow up to 22 feet! (and is also an anecic earthworm).
Some have had success using this earthworm species as compost worms too as most worms are decomposers.
They live in water instead of soil, which means you don’t find them on land or in trees and certainly can’t use them as compost worms.
These worms are typically pretty big, but some are tiny (bloodworms and tubifex worms, for example).
Most types of aquatic worms eat plants, algae, and decaying organic matter that sink into bodies of water.
Some examples of aquatic earthworms include:
Lob worms live in saltwater, such as the Atlantic Ocean. These worms can be up to three feet long, and they aren’t harmful to humans.
Other names for this species is the ragworm and they are popular with fishermen.
They are also called sandworms.
They live in saltwater, eating dead fish that wash up on shore or algae. They can survive away from their burrows for up to a few days if they end up on land during high tide.
The soil around the world is made up of around 1% earthworm. That might not sound like much, but think about how many types of earthworms there are.
Worm populations add up pretty quickly.
FUN FACT: There are more earthworms on the planet than humans. It is thought there are approximately 57 billion earthworm species, including nematodes for every one human!
How They Help Your Garden or Farm
Earthworms help your garden and farm by increasing soil fertility and making it easier for plants to grow. They do this through the following:
- Breaking down organic matter helps add nutrients like carbon and nitrogen to the soil, which is important for plant growth.
- Creating nutrient-rich worm casts. These are essentially worm poop (leading some to call them the “manure worm”) called worm castings or vermicompost, and they contain lots of nutrients that plants need to survive and thrive.
- Some farmers purchase their products from earthworm farms so their soil can become more fertile naturally.
- Interactions with plants: Some earthworms have symbiotic relationships with plants. These interactions aren’t harmful to either party, but they do improve the health of both. One famous example is yucca and its relationship with Lucifuga.
- Spreading seeds and maintaining worm burrows: Seeds can be spread far and wide in the faeces of earthworms. This is why farmlands with a lot of earthworm activity often grow more plants.
- The earthworms also maintain burrows in the soil by forcing their way through it, which makes it easier for plant roots to grow.
- Worms also help by creating deep tunnels in the ground that allow water and oxygen into lower soil layers. It makes it easier for water and nutrients to reach the roots of your crops instead of just staying on top of the ground where they can be washed away.
- Earthworms feed on organic matter in the soil or they eat soil containing organic scraps. They will then return the favor by giving nutrient rich worm casts for your plants, vegetables and fruits to grow healthier.
Earthworms are an important part of any farm or garden, but they’re also extremely beneficial to the environment.
With all of earthworms benefits and what’s at stake if we don’t keep them healthy, it’s more crucial than ever that we understand how earthworms work.
As you can see in this article, there are many different types of earthworms out there with unique traits.
Some live deep underground while others live in water.
Most types of earthworms contribute to soil fertility by breaking down organic matter or creating nutrient-rich casts for your crops.
What native earthworms do you have in your area and are they helpful?