Maggots and worms are both small, soft-bodied creatures.
But what’s the difference between worms vs maggots (and what are the similarities)?
In this article we discuss in great depth, the several key differences between these two decomposers in nature.
- Worms are longer and have a segmented body, while maggots are shorter and also have a segmented, muscular body which sits in between their tail and head.
- Worms live in the soil and eat decaying matter, while maggots eat similarly, they can also live in rotting flesh and eat the decomposing tissue.
- Worms can reproduce sexually or asexually, while maggots can not reproduce at all, only being birthed when an adult fly lays eggs
- Worms are beneficial to the environment, while maggots can cause disease if contaminated with Salmonella or E.Coli.
Worms Vs Maggots – Appearance
Worms are generally not brightly colored and earthworms will normally be an off-white, gray, brown or reddy color. But they don’t tend to have vivid colors.
The brightest is probably the Indian Blue Worm who carries a shimmering blue hue.
They are generally longer than maggots and have segmented bodies with micro (invisible to the naked eye) hairs called setae which help them to move around, with pointy heads that allow them to burrow into soil and into their feed.
They have a slimy appearance due to their skin producing mucus which also helps them glide through soil, and is even used as a (albeit weak) defense mechanism to help them escape sticky situations.
You will also notice that closer to an adult earthworm’s posterior (head) section, there is a raised (but not always) band which is often a different color to the rest of their body.
This is the clitellum, which shows that the adult is of maturity and is ready to reproduce. Maggots don’t have this.
Neither worms or maggots have legs.
Maggots typically look like very small, creamy colored worms.
They have a reduced head that can retract into their also segmented body, while worms do not.
In between their (sometimes black or brown) head and their tail, you’ll find a muscular body.
On their head, you may notice two dark dots that people often think are eyes.
These are actually breathing holes called spiracles that perform an important function for maggots.
It allows them to breathe while eating without ever having to worry about suffocating.
It really depends on the stage of their life and, more importantly the species of worm.
Adult worms can be as small as 1cm long, all the way up to nearly 10 feet long for huge species like the Australia Gippsland Giant Worm or African Giant Worm.
It’s a similar story for their width. They could be as small as 0.1cm wide, all the way up to 2.5cm wide (an inch!), depending on the species.
The common adult garden earthworm (Lumbricus Terrestris) will grow to around 30cm, fully stretched out.
Maggots are generally more uniform in size and often a lot smaller than earthworms.
They reach an average length of between 0.25cm to 1cm long and about 0.2cm in width.
Worms and maggots actually move similarly. Using their many muscular segments to contract and propel themselves forward.
Worms also have tiny hairs called setae, which contribute to their movement and grip.
Life Cycle Differences
Worms and maggots have very different life cycles.
The earthworm doesn’t have a larval stage like fly maggots do.
Young earthworms grow into adults who are hermaphrodites and breed to reproduce when their clitellum forms.
They simply lay eggs and each cocoon contains typically 2-3 earthworms.
The eggs hatch and baby earthworms emerge.
Then the life cycle continues as they develop into adults with no larva stage.
Fly maggots are the larvae of various species of flies.
Maggots emerge from eggs as larvae and consume food as worms do (more on the differences in eating habits later).
They do this until they crawl and pupate in a dark place 3-5 days later and turn from fly maggots into flies.
Food Similarities and Differences
Worms will eat most types of organic matter including most foods, dead plant matter, bacteria, paper and even feces from humans and animals.
For those who are into vermicomposting, they’ll attest to earthworms commonly eating most scraps they throw into their compost bins.
Some things aren’t worth throwing in, despite earthworms being able to eat them like rotting meat, which can attract and become a breeding ground for pests and bugs – like flies which will increase maggot populations.
Interestingly, fly larvae, aka the humble maggot, can actually be complimentary to an earthworm compost pile as they too eat organic matter for food.
A maggot will eat anything that provides energy and in as much quantity as they can to build energy in their larvae stage, ready for their pupal stage.
You can often find them in trash cans going to town on your smelly garbage which has attracted flies.
They will feed voraciously on most things that the fly was attracted to and laid eggs in, including dead carcasses, rotting fruits and anything that provides quick energy for this short stage of their life before they pupate.
It’s why you’ll find a large infestation in a single area.
They are insects that can’t tell whether they’re in a clean or dirty environment.
Their mission is simply to consume energy, where as if an earthworm’s environment starts to veer to far into acidic or alkaline pH levels, they’ll attempt to escape.
The difference is that maggots will even eat live animal and human tissue if needed. Worms do not.
You can control and get rid of maggots by pouring boiling water into your trash can. If you have a plastic bag in there, try salt instead to dehydrate them.
To prevent an infestation in your house, keep your food covered as well as your bins to keep flies out.
Maggots Vs Worms – Habitats
Finally, maggots are found in tropical and subtropical areas, preferring wet and moist environments to stop their bodies from dehydrating, causing them to die through drying out.
Though, wherever you can find flies in the world, you will find maggots, which is most places.
Worms are found all over the world and in some ways prefer much the similar type of habitat as the maggot.
Moist (not too wet) environments are preferred by earthworms for similar reasons as maggots.
If the habitat of an earthworm is too dry, they’ll dry out and die.
But if it’s too wet, they can also drown since they breathe and take in oxygen via moisture through their skin.
Maggots are surprisingly temperature tolerant and in studies have been able to survive sub 60 degrees celcius temperatures!
Maggots generally die when temperatures reach around 50 degrees celcius. Though sometimes death can occur in the 40’s range.
They have differences in temperature tolerance though, and the worm would not survive the freezing cold.
Depending on the species, earthworms can tolerate between 40 to 90 degrees F, though the ideal range for most species is between 60-80 degrees F.
This is why you’ll find earthworms on most continents apart from Antarctica!
Other Differences and Similarities Between Worms and Maggots
Both maggots and worms are light-sensitive and will wriggle away from any bright lights.
This is a defense mechanism for both as if they remain exposed to intense sunlight or light for any long period of time, death will soon follow for both.
Maggots Can Be Parasites, Where Earthworms Can Not
Maggots may also be parasites that feed off of rotting flesh, while worms are not (earthworm species can’t anyway, but there ARE parasitic worms).
When maggots cause a parasitic infection of a human or animal that is still alive, this is called Myiasis.
This is when certain types of fly larvae grow inside their living host while feeding on and nourishing themselves with their tissue.
FUN FACT: This isn’t always a bad thing! While it sounds gross, some studies (1) show that maggot therapy can actually be used for faster wound healing and surface area reduction in certain wounds in humans!
Earthworms are beneficial to the environment and do not commonly carry disease.
Maggots can cause and spread disease if contaminated with Salmonella or E.Coli, especially if they somehow get in your mouth.
If this happens, you will need to treat the issue as soon as possible as these are serious diseases.
Worm vs Maggot FAQ’s
Are Worms or Maggots Caterpillars?
No, neither the earthworm or maggot is a caterpillar.
While some caterpillars may have the name “worm” (like the tomato hornworm), but they are a caterpillar species.
The maggot is a fly larvae.
Do Worms or Maggots Turn Into Moths?
No, neither a maggot or an earthworm turn into a moth.
A wax worm will turn into a moth, but this isn’t technically a worm species, despite its name. It is a caterpillar.
Summary and Final Thoughts
While the humble worm and maggot have many similarities, they also have some key differences which you’ve hopefully learned in this article.
The maggot is often rightfully seen as a pest and can be more dangerous to humans, as well as end up in places you don’t want them to, like your house, but they can also co-exist quite well with earthworms for sharing so many similar traits.
(1) Maggot Therapy in Wound Healing: A Systematic Review – https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/17/6103