Earthworms: Earth’s best friend. We have often called these guys the “token worm”, as this is typically the organism people think of when they hear the word “worm”. Which is quite a lot of power for an earthworm to hold in its (nonexistent) hands. This article will be the first in a series that look at some of the most notable and often-discussed species of earthworms, if only to cover a small portion of this diverse suborder of annelids. We’ll start with some of the basics, and work our way up to the more exciting ones.
To start with, we have the bread-and-butter of earthworms: the common earthworm. Also known as a nightcrawler, or by their scientific name, Lumbricus terrestris. ‘Nightcrawler’ does not just describe one species of earthworm though, but several — some of which we can definitely explore in future articles. In general, nightcrawlers are the pinkish-brown color we think of. They have thin, long bodies that can grow to lengths of 14 inches (which is just over a foot). They burrow down into the soil to eat organic debris and convert it into nutrient-rich waste which acts as a fertilizer. The problem with nightcrawlers is that their waste comes out in pellets. Usually this isn’t a problem, but when there is an overabundance of them in a given area, their waste can aerate the soil too much and dry it out. This will then make it hard for plant roots to soak up as much water as they typically do and can lead to a decline in their health. They also possess clitellums: a special band of thick skin that encircles an earthworm’s body near its head. The clitellum plays a part in reproduction and so is only formed once an earthworm reaches sexual maturity; it secretes a sac which the earthworm will use to collect sperm and eggs after mating, and it is in this sac which the eggs become fertilized.
Most earthworm species possess a clitellum, and most earthworm species are hermaphrodites, meaning that they possess both male and female reproductive capabilities. One such other hermaphroditic earthworm is the tiger worm. Otherwise known as red wigglers, tiger worms are similar in appearance to nightcrawlers, except their segments are not bumpy but smooth. They also look like thick stripes, and will alternate in color between a stark red and a beige-ish color, hence the name ‘tiger worm’. Unlike nightcrawlers, tiger worms spend most of their time above ground, where they munch on decaying plant matter. They still serve the same purpose as nightcrawlers, and are a popular choice amongst vermicomposters. Many people have even found “ tiger worms in their toilets“, which is actually odd. When an earthworm shows up in a toilet, it is typically a result of a leak occuring in the pipes somewhere underground, through which they enter. Nightcrawlers have been known to show up in toilets for that very reason, but since tiger worms spend most of their time above ground, it is strange how many people seem to find them in their toilets.
So, this has been the first episode — if you will — of our exploration of the many species of earthworms. We have two more planned to come, but we welcome our readers to let us know in the comments section below if they want this series to continue beyond three articles. And naturally, if any of our readers want us to cover any other topics or need help identifying a worm-like critter they have found, we encourage you to message us with your query!
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