Earthworm

Lumbricus genus

(assorted species, including: Lumbricus terrestris and Lumbricus rubellus)

The two most common species of earthworms in Northern Virginia are the Common Earthworm, or "nightcrawler" (Lumbricus terrestris) and the Red Earthworm (Lumbricus rubellus). These earthworms were introduced from Europe many years ago. Most native earthworms are thought to be long gone.

Earthworms' bodies are soft and long with a cylinder shape. Nightcrawlers, the largest, can grow up to eight inches long. Their coloration is brownish-red.

Earthworms live in soil in meadows, woods, stream banks, and lawns. They burrow up to six feet deep.

Earthworms are important in nature because they move through the soil, eating it and moving it. This mixes the nutrients in the soil and allows air and water to get into it as well. Plants will then grow better in the soil and this helps all wildlife.

Dennis R. Linden

Earthworms can regenerate, which means to grow back part of its body if severed (cut). It does not mean if a mealworm is cut in half, it will become two earthworms. If the tail end of the earthworm is removed by a hungry bird, or another predator, the worm can grow a new one over time.

Earthworms will eat just about anything organic (natural), especially dead leaves and other dead plant material. They will also eat manure (animal poop), some living plants (including Red Clover), and dead animals (carrion). Sometimes they accidentally eat tiny live animals because they are in the soil. Some favorite earthworm foods include dead leaves that are high in sugar, from trees such as American Sycamore, maples, ashes, birches, and American Elm.

Earthworms breathe through their skin, so they must stay moist.

Nightcrawlers build a burrow which has a small mound at the surface, called a "midden." At night the worm will stretch its body out to pull food back into its burrow. It keeps its back end anchored in the burrow so it can disappear quickly should a predator show up. This is why you will sometimes see a bird pulling on an earthworm from the ground. The rest of it is in its burrow.

Earthworms are hermaphroditic, meaning they can all lay eggs after they mate. Earthworms lay coccoons which have an egg inside.

Once an earthworm has hatched, it can live up to about three years.

Many people wonder why earthworms are found in great numbers on rainy days. Mistakenly, people think they are "flooded" out of the ground. This is not true. Remember, earthworms breathe through their skin, which must stay moist. Therefore, rainy days are the perfect time for an earthworm to look for a new place to live. If an earthworm population gets too large in one place, many will seek a new location when they can.

Earthworms have many predators, including: ants, mites, centipedes, earwigs, nematodes, fly larvae, termites, springtails, sowbugs, snails, slugs, spiders, birds, rats, mice, moles, toads, turtles, and snakes.

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Earthworm Eating
Video
Mark Moran
Earthworm Eaten By Bluegill
Video
Mark Moran
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Red Clover

Bullfrog

Virginia Creeper

Eastern Redcedar C

American Sycamore (dead leaves)

Largemouth Bass

Poison Ivy

Eastern Worm Snake Mu

Red Maple (dead leaves)

Crayfish

Bracken Fern

American Elm (dead leaves)

Black Rat Snake

Cinnamon Fern

Silver Maple (dead leaves)

Eastern Box Turtle

Red Clover

Skunk Cabbage

Bluegill

Smooth Crabgrass

Kentucky Bluegrass

Eastern Mole

Switchgrass

Mallard

White Cushion Moss

Common Snapping Turtle

Skunk Cabbage

Wood Frog

Chicory

Eastern Dobsonfly

Bushy Aster

Least Shrew

Kentucky Bluegrass

Pennsylvania Firefly

Five-lined Skink

American Toad

Green Darner

Channel Catfish

Red-tailed Hawk

American Robin

European Starling

Relationship to Humans:

Earthworms are important to people as decomposers and garden helpers. Decomposers break down old dead things into the soil. This allows new plants and animals to grow. In the garden, earthworms move about, letting air into the ground, mixing up minerals, and helping the soil drain water.

Earthworms are also excellent as bait for fishing and as food for many interesting pets.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Annelid
CLASS
Oligochaeta
ORDER
Opisthopora
FAMILY
Lumbricidae
GENUS
Lumbricus
SPECIES
Lumbricus terrestris or Lumbricus rubella

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