Garden worms come in all shapes and sizes and believe it or not, they play a major role in the survival of the earth’s fruits, vegetables, trees, and plants. There are so many worms living inside the earth that it would be impossible to list them all here. Fortunately, there are some worm groups that are larger than others. Garden worms, such earthworms, are one of the largest group of worms on the planet today. There are more than 4,400 different types of worms and of these worms there are 2,700 species of earthworm. There are more than 1,200 species of another type of worm called the inchworm. It is important to note that not all inchworms are good for crops. More on this later.
Garden worms such as earthworms can be found in just about every corner of the earth. They live in trees, in bark, and under rocks as well as along rivers, near springs, and in ponds. Their favorite place to live, however, is burrowed inside the earth’s rich soil. During the winter months they burrow deep within the earth until the surface warms again during the spring. During the warm summer months, worms stay closer to the tops of soil where they create tunnels to wiggle in and out of. These tunnels are extremely important for plant life as they create a path for water and air, which is essential for the survival of plant life.
Places like China, Australia, Greenland, and the Sahara Desert have their own indigenous species of earthworms. Besides the Sahara Desert, you won’t find large numbers of worms living in “sandy” areas, especially sandy beaches. The vast majority of worms on our planet can only survive under certain environmental conditions.
Worms have no lungs, so they breathe through their skin. This means that the worm’s environment and skin must be moist at all times. This allows the worm to breathe in oxygen. If the worm’s skin dries out, the worm will die from suffocation. While worms need moisture to survive, too much moisture can be fatal. If too much water is present, it takes the place of oxygen, which will cause the worms to flee to the surface. Once on the surface, worms will be exposed to sunlight. If worms remain in the sunlight for too long, they can become paralyzed.
In addition to needing a moist environment for survival, worms must also remain close to their food supply. Worms feed off of leaves and dead grass, which contain organisms that provide a healthy diet of bacteria, algae, and fungi. Worms feast on dirt as well, especially if they live deeper inside the earth. Worms also eat plants, fruits and vegetables.
Although you cannot see them, believe it or not, worms do have mouths. The worm’s mouth is actually big enough and powerful enough to grab a leaf and drag it around. They also have a pharynx, esophagus, crop, gizzard and intestine. When the worm eats its food, it pulls the materials into its mouth with the help of the pharynx and its prostomium (also called acron). This creates a suction motion. This suction motion aids in helping the worm consume large amounts of food in a sort amount of time. The gizzard grinds the food. Worms eat so much that they typically produce excrement equal to their own weight every 24 hours.
The worm’s moist sustenance rich environment plays an extremely important role in reproduction as well. Worms prefer to mate and reproduce in warm moist soil, away from the light.
About the Inch Worm
An inchworm is the larvae of moths of the family Geometridae (phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Lepidoptera). This large, widely diffused group has more than 1,200 species indigenous to North America. Some inchworms (also “inchworm”) are considered average while others are considered extraordinary. Inchworms do, however, have many common characteristics. They have smooth, hairless bodies, and they typically grow up to one inch in length. Their colors run the gamut from brown and black to bright green.
Also referred to as loopers, measuring worms, and spanworms, inchworms have three pairs of legs at the front end and two to three pairs of prolegs or larval abdominal appendages at the rear. Inchworms travel by drawing their hind end forward while gripping the earth with its prolegs. They have the ability to stand erect and motionless when poked or prodded in any way.
Much like spiders, some inchworms have the ability produce thin delicate lines. In some cases, these thin lines are made of silk. It just so happens that one of the most destructive types of inchworms, called cankerworms, produces soft silk threads as they drop from trees to evade predators. Also called measuring worms, cankerworms vary in color, but their bodies consist of long horizontal stripes. Cankerworms feed on shrub foliage and tree foliage. These creatures like to hang out in apples, elms, oaks, lindens, sweetgums, and a wide variety of other shade and fruit trees.
Another type of inchworm, also called Looper and Cabbage Looper, overwinters as green to brown pupae tightly wrapped in cocoons (not webs) of white thread. In the spring, the adult moth emerges. The adult lays its eggs, typically on the surface of leaves. Once the larvae emerge, they feed for two to four weeks. Once they’ve had their fill, the larvae spin cocoons similar to the ones used during the overwinter process. The larvae prefer vegetable gardens and they eat a variety of crops including: celery, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, Brussels sprouts, beans, parsley, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, and peas.
Unfortunately, larvae eating habits cause massive destruction to food crop foliage, by eating holes in the leaves. There are several ways to control these types of inchworm infestations. Trichogramma wasps are natural predators as well as birds, yellow jackets and paper wasps. Natural diseases and parasites also control them. “Wilt disease” causes the worms body to rot. This usually happens late in the season. “Bacillus thuringiensis,” a wilt pathogen, is available to gardeners to help control infestations.
All About Worms is always free, always reader-supported. Your tips via CashApp, Venmo, or Paypal are appreciated! Receipts will come from ISIPP Publishing.