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What is an Earthworm?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The earthworm family includes several different species of invertebrates that live in most parts of the world. These animals can vary significantly in terms of size, with some being as small as half an inch (about a centimeter) and others being over 20-feet-long (about 6 meters). They are generally brownish in color, and they have segmented bodies, which contract and relax to produce simple locomotion. Animals in the earthworm family are known to eat nutrients left over by decomposing plant matter in soil, and most scientists think they are very important to the ecosystem. Earthworms are generally blind and deaf, but their skin is covered in cells that allow them to taste the soil and detect light.

All earthworms generally have reproductive parts from both sexes. This means that they can produce both sperm and eggs, and when they mate, both worms produce separate offspring. The earthworm mating process generally involves the worms tangling up with each other and excreting mucus that allows each worm to absorb the other's sperm. After that, the worms generally use the sperm to fertilize eggs inside their bodies. These eggs are released inside mucus rings that form on the outside of each worm’s body and eventually fall to the ground, where they become protective casings.


Animals in the earthworm family are constantly burrowing in the ground and eating soil as they go. This generally leaves a sponge-like series of tunnels, which can potentially make it easier for water to get down to plant roots. It also keeps the soil mixed up, which can be beneficial to plant life. The feces produced when worms eat is thought to be a good fertilizer, and for this reason, many farmers purposely cultivate a strong earthworm population on their land. There are also people who breed earthworms just for the purpose of gathering their feces and selling it as fertilizer.

Some people breed earthworms and sell the worm's feces as fertilizer.
Some people breed earthworms and sell the worm's feces as fertilizer.

All earthworms need to survive is moist soil and warm temperatures. They are coldblooded, so they can’t survive in areas where the temperatures are too severe. They also generally need a certain amount of moisture, and if they get too dry, they will die. Animals in the earthworm family also have quite a few natural enemies. For example, some bird species eat earthworms as their main food source, and these birds often have special adoptions in their vision that allow them to detect the movements of earthworms beneath the surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is an earthworm?

An earthworm is a terrestrial invertebrate belonging to the phylum Annelida. They are characterized by their long, cylindrical, segmented bodies and lack of limbs. Earthworms play a crucial role in soil health by aerating the ground and breaking down organic matter, which enriches the soil with nutrients essential for plant growth.

How do earthworms benefit the soil and environment?

Earthworms are often called 'nature's plow' due to their ability to improve soil structure and fertility. As they burrow, they aerate the soil, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate more effectively. Their castings (worm excrement) are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are key nutrients for plant growth, thus enhancing soil quality and promoting a healthy ecosystem.

What do earthworms eat?

Earthworms consume a variety of organic materials, including decaying plant matter, leaves, and dead roots. They also feed on microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi found in the soil. Their diet helps decompose organic matter, turning it into nutrient-rich humus that benefits the soil's overall health and fertility.

How do earthworms reproduce?

Earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning each individual possesses both male and female reproductive organs. However, they still require a mate to reproduce. During mating, two earthworms exchange sperm, which is then used to fertilize their eggs. The fertilized eggs are encased in cocoons, from which new earthworms will eventually emerge.

Can earthworms survive above ground?

While earthworms can survive above ground for short periods, especially in moist conditions, they are primarily adapted to life within the soil. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can be harmful to earthworms, as they can dry out and die. They require a moist environment to breathe through their skin, which is why they thrive underground.

Are there different types of earthworms?

Yes, there are several thousand species of earthworms worldwide, with varying habits and habitats. Some common types include the nightcrawler (Lumbricus terrestris), which is known for its deep burrowing, and the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida), often used in vermicomposting due to its efficiency in breaking down organic waste. Each species plays a specific role in the ecosystem and soil health.

Discussion Comments


My husband and son are also avid fishermen! We bought a used deep-freeze and took the lid off so that they could "grow" worms in it. They filled it with what they called "good worm dirt" and then added earthworms. It was pretty slow for a while. Just the same old worms crawling around.

We have had the earthworm farm for three years now and we have increased to three freezers and we actually sell earthworms. People wanting to go fishing will come to us to get their worms. I suppose it's not the best source of extra income but it's income all the same.


My husband and sons love to go fishing. Anytime we have a good rain, they are outside first thing in the morning getting some good worms for fishing.

While I am not thrilled at the thought of live worms being kept in my refrigerator, they make sure the container is covered and well sealed. Thank goodness I have never opened it by mistake thinking it was something else.

One of my boys is fascinated by the idea of an earthworm farm and thinks he could make lots of money. I keep telling him that is something he can pursue when he gets a place of his own!


@manykitties2 - I totally understand what you mean. The very first thing I had to dissect was an earthworm in my earth science high school class. I really had no interest in earthworm biology or anything else that you had to dissect.

My partner was just as squeamish as I was so we didn't make a very good pair. I was hoping I would get partnered up with a guy who really got in to that kind of thing. That way I could just let him do all the nasty work. I didn't get that lucky, and it was a miserable experience.

I would have no objections if they removed any kind of dissecting from high school courses. If you are going to need that kind of information and training, you can most certainly get it at the college level.


One of my worst memories was of dissecting an earthworm in my high school biology class. My teacher thought it would be a good way to work up to our later projects of dissecting a frog and eventually a pig fetus.

I actually have a very weak stomach and ended up getting really ill during that class. Earthworms smell badly in my opinion and they just look awful. I hate how their bodies look and how we had to separate the different rings of the earthworm.

I really think that all animal dissection should be removed from classrooms. There is really no reason to do that unless you are planning on being a scientist later in life. What do you think?


Earthworms have always been one of the easiest baits to acquire if you enjoy fishing. I remember when I was young my dad would get me up before dawn to earthworm hunt in the backyard.

Early in the morning when the dew as still on the ground we would take our flashlights out back and don some gloves. In about half an hour would would have an entire container full of earthworms we picked off our back lawn. My dad always said he wasn't paying for something that was available on our own property.

I remember loving these outings when I was young because it always felt like an adventure.


My daughter recently got a pet frog and I had to buy earthworms as well as crickets for him to eat. I couldn’t believe that I had to buy live animals for the frog to eat. I was hoping that I could get away with some prepackaged food, but I guess not.

Anyway my husband is the one buying the earthworms and crickets because I can’t bring myself to buying them especially when I know that they are going to get eaten.

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    • Earthworms.
      By: Dusty Cline
    • Some people breed earthworms and sell the worm's feces as fertilizer.
      By: zest_marina
      Some people breed earthworms and sell the worm's feces as fertilizer.