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Earthworm Biology1
J. P. Martin, J. H. Black, and R. M. Hawthorne2

Taxonomy • Nightcrawlers. This earthworm is common to
the northern states and may be picked from fields
Earthworms (Figure 1) are scientifically and lawns at night for commercial fish-bait sale.
classified as animals belonging to the order Although very popular with fishermen, they are
Oligochaeta, class Chaetopoda, phylum Annelida. In not commonly raised on a commercial basis
this phylum there are about 1,800 species of because they reproduce slowly and require
earthworms grouped into five families and distributed special production and control procedures.
all over the world. The most common worms in
North America, Europe, and Western Asia belong to • Field worms (also known as garden worms).
the family Lumbricidae, which has about 220 These make excellent fish bait and are often
species. Earthworms range from a few millimeters preferred by those who want a small number of
long to over 3 feet, but most common species are a worms for their own use. They are not prolific
few inches in length. Only a few types are of interest breeders, so are not recommended for
to the commercial earthworm grower, and of these commercial enterprises.
only two are raised on a large-scale commercial basis.
• Manure worms (also known as bandlings, red
Some of the more common species used for bait are
wigglers, or angleworms because of their
the following.
squirming reactions when handled). These are
particularly adaptable to commercial production
and are one of the two types most commonly
grown by successful worm farmers.

• Red worms. These are basically another type of
manure worm, differing mainly in size and color
Figure 1. Earthworm. from their larger and darker cousins. They are
also very adaptable to commercial production,

1. This document is Circular 455, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. It was originally
published as Leaflet 2828 for the Division of Agricultural Sciences at the University of California, July 1976, and was reprinted as FCES Circular 455 in
May 1979. Revised: June 2005. Reviewed: May 2008. Please visit the EDIS Web site at
2. The authors of Leaflet 2828 are J. P. Martin, professor of Soil Science, Riverside, CA; J. H. Black, Farm Advisor (Entomology), Kern County, Bakersfield,
CA; and R. M. Hawthorne, survey entomologist, Division of Plant Industry, State Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, CA. This publication
was reviewed for use in Florida by R. A. Dunn, professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food
and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611. This publication was printed with permission of the authors and Cooperative
Extension, an educational agency of the University of California and the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and
other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex,
sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service,
University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Larry
Arrington, Dean

The nightcrawler has about 150 segments. Earthworms are usually not well-developed nervous. sugars. is used for descriptive purposes. These can be extended or retracted and a . R. various skin glands secrete a lubricating mucus which aids movement Manure worms and red worms can adapt to through the earth and helps to stabilize burrows and living in many different environments. N. are located on each 10022). different segments perform 3 weeks. The earthworm. the anterior References end or head. (One amino acids. fungi. self-mating although they are hermaphroditic (each excretory. swallows soil (including decomposing organic residues in the soil) or residues and plant litter on the These worms may be found in manure piles or in soil surface. 1972.Earthworm Biology 2 and together with manure worms constitute principal function is for movement. a utilized for energy and cell synthesis. to any other. surface. (Available from into which the earthworm may crawl. Strong muscles mix the swallowed soils containing large quantities of organic matter. while primitive. called setae (bristles).000 worms or more. has Reproduction. digestive. and other smaller organic 8-foot by 3-foot by 1-foot deep bin. in addition. nematodes. each cocoon producing from two to twenty different functions. description of one species will apply in most respects Earthworms lack specialized breathing devices. The worm be ingested. C. The eggs hatch after about into organs--that is.000 worms. Small hair-like John Wiley. Mature ringing or segmentation of the body. bacteria. a conspicuous. girdle-like structure near the anterior end of the body. New York. 605 Third Ave. consists of the mouth and the prostomium. and reproductive systems. but material and pass it through the digestive tract as the new grower should purchase breeding stock from digestive fluids containing enzymes are secreted and a reputable grower or distributor. while manure and red worms have approximately 95.. a lobe which serves as a covering for the Edwards. however. A. The reproductive organs).) living protozoa. structure. A mutual exchange of sperm most noticeable external feature (Figure 3) is the occurs between two worms during mating. Breeder worms may mixed with the materials. Biology of mouth and as a wedge to force open cracks in the soil earthworms. structures. muscular. In this section. The digestive fluids release be purchased in lots as small as 1. efficient burrowing. which then slips off the worm and is general function as the division of the animal body deposited in or on the soil. the nightcrawler. Chapman and Hall. Ltd. They will eat casts. baby worms with an average of four. which is not sperm and egg cells and nutritive fluid are deposited merely external but involves nearly all of the internal in cocoons produced by the clitellum. the individual possesses both male and female major elements of which are shown in Figure 2. The worm's lack about 80 to 90 percent of of protruding structures other than setae facilitates commercially-produced worms.. as well as many other types of The earthworm's digestive tract is highly adapted materials which contain organic substances that can to its burrowing and feeding activities. and other microorganiams as well as partially decomposed Biology plant and animal materials). Y. J. The first section of the earthworm. The ova (eggs) are fertilized by the sperm cells within Segmentation within the earthworm serves the same the cocoon. Respiratory exchange occurs through the body Lumbricus terrestris. and Lofty. circulatory. The simpler molecules Because the physical structure of earthworms are absorbed through intestinal membranes and are varies only slightly from one species to another. almost any organic matter at some stage of decomposition. segment. may molecules from the organic residues (which include contain 100.

E. pp. University of Michigan Press. A. Gaddie. E. Ontario.). F. Lumbricus terestris. Internal structure of the earthworm. Lumbricus terrestris. Raw (eds.. Inc. J.Earthworm Biology 3 Figure 2. . Academic Press. Ann Arbor. North American Bait Farms.. Soil Animals. 1968. Ontario. New York. Burges and F. External structure of the earthworm. Gaddie. Credits: R. Figure 3. Schaller." In: Soil Biology. California. California. Inc.259-322. Credits: R. E. North American Bait Farms. Satchell. "Lumbricidae. 1967.