Earthworms in Nebraska (and Elsewhere)

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A very nice and enthusiastic reader wrote to us recently about earthworms that live in the soil of Omaha, Nebraska. The reader was able to find plenty of information about worms that are used for composting (which are typically red worms, commonly called red wiggler worms), but couldn’t seem to find much on plain old earthworms that you find in soil. Allow us to be of assistance.

Before we get into earthworms and Nebraska, we should point out that earthworms are also part of the composting process – they are just slower at converting organic waste into fertilizer, which is why red worms are preferred by people maintaining a compost bin. So, when you learn about composting and worms involvement thereof, this applies to a wide range of worms, including earthworms.

Anyway, the earthworms of Nebraska are the same earthworms that you can find in many other places in the United States, which is to say that in discovering any information about earthworms in the U.S., you’re also discovering information about earthworms that live in Nebraska. (For that matter, if you find information about earthworms in general, you’ll be discovering information about the earthworms of Nebraska, as the various species of earthworms are closely related.) In other words, there is no earthworm that exclusively lives in Nebraska, as far as we know. But perhaps we should step back a bit and consider earthworms in general.

Earthworms belong to a subclass of animals known as Oligochaeta, which is itself part of the annelid phylum. In addition to earthworms, the Oligochaeta subclass includes a number of other terrestrial and aquatic worms, like blackworms, pot worms, and ice worms. The Oligochaeta, containing approximately 10,000 known species of worms, make up nearly half of the annelid phylum. Several of these species are the various types of earthworms, including, of course, the earthworms that live in Nebraska and other parts of the U.S. So, perhaps our reader’s question boils down to this: what specific species of earthworm live in Nebraska?

Given the variety of earthworms that exist, there are surely a few different kinds that live in Nebraska, but one of the more common species is the river worm (scientific name: diplocardia Riparia), a species that lives in the Central United States, including Nebraska. They tend to live in fine soils, and so are especially fond of river banks (hence the name). They have dark brown skin and tend to be about five to eight inches long. Like lots of other worms, they subsist off of organic matter, like leaf litter and other detritus in the soil.

So, the river worm is one species of earthworm that lives in Nebraska, but as we implied earlier, our reader should really just focus on reading about earthworms in general if they want to know more about these creatures. Sure, there are minor differences between the various types of earthworms (there has to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be regarded as different species), but they are all extremely similar. When the common folk (as opposed to scientists studying worms) talk of earthworms, they are referring to earthworms in general. This is how the term is understood. There is tons of information about earthworms out there, so we encourage our reader to dig into this material to help him on his quest to learn more about earthworms in Nebraska.


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