Worms are the most crucial part of vermicomposting. Choosing the suitable species can make or break your compost bin. New worm bin owners are often overwhelmed by the different species available out there. People also confused about Where to buy worms for vermicomposting. In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about vermicomposting worms.
What are earthworms
A lot of people have the wrong concept of earthworms. I have seen people asking can I put earthworms with my vermicompost worms, are earthworm eggs in my compost bin, okay? etc. often, people think earthworm is a separate organism. The truth is that earthworm is a common name given to a large number of earth burrowing species. Over 6000 species come under the name earthworms. I think you must have guessed by now that all vermicomposting worms are earthworms!
Earthworms are found worldwide except in deserts, areas permanently covered by snow, and places that lack soil and vegetation. Regardless of the species, certain traits are shared by all earthworms
- All species burrow in earth and emerge in the night to forage
- They have segmented body
- They have to maintain the moist layer on their bodies to survive. They have tiny pores on their skin that secretes body fluids at regular intervals
- They do not have specific organs to see, hear or smell. The necessary sensory functions are accomplished by specialised cells present all over their bodies
- An earthworm has both male and female sexual organs.
Earthworms are classified into three categories based on their feeding and burrowing habits.
- Epigeic: These are the worms that are best for vermicomposting. They live above mineral soil horizon. They don’t go deep and survive on soil litter.
- Anecic: These worms are larger than epigeic worms and make permanent burrows in the soil. They live in both burrows and upper parts of the soil.
- Endogeic: These worms live deep inside the soil. They are fully burrowing and are pale in colour. They feed on rich soil.
Worms Suitable for vermicomposting
Many species of worms are capable of decomposing waste material. However, when we choose worms for vermicomposting, we look for specific characteristics which make some worm species better alternatives than others. These characteristics are
- The worms should be easy to culture
- They must have a liking for the substances which are commonly composted
- They must have a high output per worm and per unit of volume
Best worms for vermicomposting
Based on the above criteria, a few species come on the top. Let’s learn more about these species so you can pick whatever suits you the best.
Eisenia fetida or Red Wigglers
This worm is also known as tiger worm, branding worm, panfish worm, trout worm and manure worm. Eisenia fetida is the most widely used species of composting worms.
These worms are native to Europe; however, they are introduced in most parts of the world and currently found in all continents except Antarctica. They excel in rotting food and manure.
- Their posterior segments do not taper and have a blunt final segment
- You can identify them by a raised clitellum( the fleshy band that encircles the body)
- These worms demonstrate less movement compared to other popular vermicomposting worms
- Red wigglers generally don’t escape the worm bin
Cocoon stage – Mature worms produce cocoons at the rate of 0,35 cocoons per day. The average incubation period for cocoons is 23 days.
Hatchlings: After 23 days, 3 younglings are produced from each cocoon. These younglings will take another 60 days to reach sexual maturity.
Mature Stage – Under ideal conditions, mature worms will keep producing cocoons for 500 days. The average life expectancy of red wigglers is over 2 years, and in ideal conditions, they can even live 5 years!
Eudrilus Eugeniae or African Nightcrawlers
African nightcrawler is another excellent species of worms for vermicomposting.
African nightcrawler is native to tropical West Africa, but now it is found in various warm regions globally due to its widespread uses.
- They have a purple grey sheen
- Their posterior ends are tapered to a point
- They show higher rates of growth and reproduction at 25 degrees celsius.
- When the population density is higher, they propagate faster.
Cocoon Stage – these worms have a mean cocoon production rate of 1,3 cocoons per worm per day.
Hatchlings – on average, each cocoon hatches to give birth to 2 younglings.
Mature Stage – These worms can attain sexual maturity in 45 days after hatching. This is faster than red wigglers that take 60 days to mature. After maturation, they actively keep producing cocoons till 270 days and usually stop after 300 days.
Perionyx Excavatus or Indian Blue Worm
Perionyx excavatus is generally known as blues or Indian blues. These are commercially produced due to their ability to form fine worm castings quickly.
- They are longer than red wigglers but shorter than African nightcrawler
- They demonstrate the highest rates of reproduction at 25 degrees Celsius
- They move pretty fast compared to other worms
- These worms have an iridescent blue sheen (hence the name blue worms)
Its believed that these worms originated in the Himalayan region. They are well suited for tropical and subtropical regions.
Cocoon stage – The mean age at which worms start laying cocoons is 28 days. They start to for even if no mating has occurred. On average, one worm produces one cocoon a day. The usual incubation period is 18 days at 25 degrees Celsius.
Hatchlings – After 18 days, each cocoon produces one hatchling. These hatchlings eat aggressively and attain sexual maturity in 28 days.
Mature Stage – Once the worms are mature, they keep producing cocoons for elongated periods. Studies say they are well capable even after 250 days (Source)
So which is the best worm species out of these 3?
While all three of these species are pretty popular in different areas, red wigglers enjoy the most favoured status because red wigglers can survive a wide range of temperature. They can endure temperatures as low as 5 degrees Celsius and as high as 43 degrees Celsius. At these extreme temperatures, other species of worms perish rapidly.
Due to their higher rate of reproduction, ability to process a large amount of waste and endurance, red wigglers are most sought after by the vermicomposting community.
Where to buy worms for vermicomposting
Now you know which worms you need, the next step is to find a place where you can buy or get them. Yes, you don’t always have to spend money to get the worms you need! If you look hard enough, you can get them for free.
Places to get worms for free
- Facebook groups – Join a vermicomposting Facebook group, and you are likely to find people in your vicinity looking to get rid of their surplus worms. People often ask me what can they do with all the extra worms they have. Sometimes I advise them to start a new bin, and if they can’t do it, they should find new worm bin owners looking for worms. It would help if you looked for such Facebook groups; it won’t take long.
- Ask your friends – If you have other friends who own a worm bin, the chances are that they might have excess worms that they will be happy to share
Places to buy the worms
If you tried to get worms for free but failed to do so, you would have to buy the worms and these days, hundreds of people selling worms on their websites (except me!). I get the worms I need from
- Craigslist – The offered prices at Craigslist is often cheaper than market prices. If you are buying worms from this site, please check if the worms are in good health before paying.
- Amazon – On Amazon, you can expect to pay $35 – $39 for a pack of worms that contain 250 worms. The sellers guarantee that delivered worms will be alive.
- Other sites: A simple google search will give you a list of several sites that are selling worms at various prices. I personally have not tried any of these sellers myself. Before buying from an unrecognised website, please go through the seller’s policies and make sure that he offers a guarantee that they will deliver live worms.