For reasons we can’t decipher, we’ve received a few questions lately about rearing worms. The most recent article we wrote dealt with raising marine worms, and the question before us now has to do with rearing polychaete worms (or simply “polychaetes”) specifically. (Most polychaetes are marine worms, so obviously raising marine worms and raising polychaetes are related.) What exactly our reader was asking was hard to determine, but at bottom it was about managing what might be called a “polychaete worm farm,” one in which polychaetes are reared and bred. Is it possible to rear and breed polychaete worms?
Generally, when people are interested in rearing worms, they want to eventually use them for animal food. Hence the interest in worms like red wrigglers and black soldier fly larvae, both of which are often fed to poultry. People also breed worms for fish food, as when people plant Catawba trees to attract Catawba worms, which make excellent fish bait. (For the record, Catawba worms are actually caterpillars, not worms.) There are also people who are interested in worm farming as a business. Such people generally set up an operation that is designed to harvest worms, worm castings, or both. The reasons for wanting to rear marine worms are a bit hazier. It could be done for commercial reasons – people do buy aquatic worms – but we don’t think this is a particularly promising business to open, as we concluded in a previous article about marine worm farms. There is a market for certain kinds of worms, but these worms are rarely marine worms, at least relatively speaking.
However, the reader gave no reason for his interest in rearing polychaetes, so we won’t dwell on the commercial prospects of such an enterprise, which may or may not be of interest to our reader. As we mentioned in the article we just wrote about rearing marine worms, there is nothing to prevent a sufficiently motivated person from rearing marine worms, polychaetes included. As is the case with the rearing of any creature, you must meet the basic needs of the polychaetes, and as long as you do this, you are technically rearing them. Give them a place to live (presumably something like an aquarium) and make sure they have a food source, and that is essentially all. (They are simple creatures – rearing worms is not like rearing, say, livestock.) It is dangerous to make blanket statements about polychaetes considering there are over 10,000 species of them, and we have no idea if it is realistic to rear any given polychates (probably not), but overall, and to address our reader’s fundamental question, yes, you can rear polychaetes. A rare dreamer might do this for commercial purposes, but it is probably more common to do it in a lab, like when scientists reared Manayunkia speciosa, a fresh water polychaete, in the laboratory in order to describe their life cycle. To say you can rear polychaetes is different from saying you will be able to rear polychaetes, however. Scientists in a lab, for example, obviously have a lot of resources at their disposal, so their success doesn’t guarantee yours.
Breeding them could be trickier still. At minimum, you’ll need male and female polychaetes, as most species are not hermaphroditic, and you’ll likely have to replicate the natural conditions under which your chosen polychaete breeds. This might be difficult depending on what facilities and resources you have available, and whether it is feasible to reliably breed any species of polychaete is beyond our purview. It is obviously theoretically possible, but practical considerations may make it difficult.
So, you can rear and breed polychaetes, but it could be difficult, especially the breeding part.. If you are interested in, say, keeping one for a pet for a while, this strikes us as reasonably feasible – you just have to meet their basic needs to keep them alive. However, we don’t have personal experience rearing polychaetes, so our theoretical comments on this topic, while valid, may run up against practical problems in the real world of polychaete worm rearing.
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