Types Of Earthworms – Explanation + Visual Guide

There are 3 main types of earthworms; the compost worm, the earth-worker worm, and the root-dwelling worm.

Pheretima, Perionyx excavatus, Glossoscolecidae, Acanthodrilidae, and Eudrilidae are also species of earthworms that you may not know of just by looking at their name. They are all considered lower classifications of earthworms.

What Is An Earthworm?

An earthworm is a tube-shaped, segmented worm. Earthworms can be found all over the world living in the soil.

They feed on live and dead organic matter. An earthworm’s digestive system runs through the length of its body and it breathes through its skin.

List of Earthworm Types 

Pheretima

These types of earthworms are found mainly in New Guinea. Like most earthworms, pheretima are nocturnal and abhor light. They feed and only at night. And, like most earthworms, they must keep their body surface wet to breathe.

Anecic Earthworms

This species of earthworm leaves permanent vertical burrows in the soil. They drag leaves from the surface into these burrows and eat the leaves.

Anecic earthworms a dark red or brown head end while their tails are usually a paler color.

Apporectodea longa, an anecic earthworm.
Apporectodea longa, an anecic earthworm

Anecic earthworms also leave piles of dirt and debris behind when as they burrow by casting them around the entrance to form a mound.

They also cast their waste on the surface as well which in turn acts as fertilizer for plants.

Earthworms in this species include the Aporrectodea longa (pictured above), Aporrectodea nocturna, Lumbricus friendi and Lumbricus terrestris.

Glossoscolecidae

Glossoscolecidae make up a species of earthworms that are native to Central and South America. They typically inhabit forested areas. They can grow up to 6 feet long.

Glossoscolecidae
Glossoscolecidae

Endogeic Earthworms

Endogeic earthworms live in and feed on the soil. Unlike anecic earthworms, which make vertical burrows, these types of earthworms make horizontal burrows through the soil as they move around. Endogeic earthworms are often pale in color. Most have a mixture of grey, pale pink, green or blue.

Allolobophora chlorotica, an endogeic earthworm.
Allolobophora chlorotica, an endogeic earthworm.

Allolobophora Chlorotica

Allolobophora chlorotica is also known as the green worm. These earthworms feed and live in the soil. Green worms differ from other earthworms due to the presence of three ‘Sucker-like Discs’ on the underside of the clitellum. 

Green Worm (Allolobophora chlorotica).
Green Worm (Allolobophora chlorotica).

Octolasion Cyaneum

These species of earthworm lives mainly in topsoil. It feeds on the soil where it lives. Most Octolasion Cyaneum grow to 10cm once they reach maturity. The body from the first segment to the saddle is partly or entirely pale in color.

Octolasion cyaneum - Blue Grey Worm
Octolasion cyaneum – Blue Grey Worm

The color of these types of earthworms varies and they can be faint blue-grey to a pale rosy pink color. However, it has prominent yellowtail (last four or five segments). Octolasion cyaneum may also have a lilac-blue line on the upper surface.

Eudrilidae

The Eudrilidae are a family of earthworms found mostly in Africa. Although, one species, Eudrilus eugeniae, is widely distributed around the warmer parts of the world and historically cultured as the “African nightcrawler”.

Eudrilus eugeniae "African nightcrawler".
Eudrilus eugeniae “African nightcrawler”.

Epigeic Earthworms

These types of earthworms live on the surface of the soil in leaf scatterings. Unlike the other kinds of earthworms, epigeic earthworms are not likely to make burrows but live in and feed on the leaf litter on the surface. Most are often bright red or reddy-brown in color and they are not usually stripy.

Lumbricus castaneus, an epigeic earthworm.
Lumbricus castaneus, an epigeic earthworm.

Dendrobaena Octaedra

These are small (2-4 cm), litter-dwelling earthworm native to Europe. However, they can also be found in parts of Canada, the United States, South America, and Asia.

Dendrobaena octaedra feed principally on microorganisms associated with rotting surface litter. They are also known as the octagonal tail-worm.

Acanthodrilidae

The Acanthodrilidae are an ancient and widely distributed type of earthworm that can be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, and North America.

Eiseniella Tetraedra

The eiseniella tetredra is a red worm that varies in length from 2 to 8 cm. These species are aquatic and live in mud or under stones in rivers. You’d also find them in damp areas on land.

Compost Worms

There are 4 types of compost worms and they live within the top four to five inches of topsoil and feed on vegetable matter. They prefer to eat of protozoa, bacteria, and fungi.

compost worms

You can find these types of earthworms in regular garden soil, leaf piles, and manure piles.

Compost worms don’t build permanent burrows but, instead, they burrow randomly throughout the rotting matter and the topsoil.

Perionyx Excavatus

Perionyx excavatus is are a variety of compost worms grown commercially. Popular names for this species include blues or Indian blues.

A handful of compost worms; perionyx excavatus.
A handful of compost worms; perionyx excavatus. (Smithsonian)

Earthworker Worms

These are the most common earthworm types that you’d find in your garden. They make long vertical burrows that are a few feet deep, leaving their poo, known as worm casts at the entrances.

Earthworker worms do eat large volumes of organic matter (leaves) but prefer to munch on soil instead. They mainly come out at night to look for food.

Root-Dwelling Worms

There are two extremely rare earthworms; the didymogaster sylvaticus (the squirting worm) and the Australian megascolides australis. You won’t ever happen upon any of these root-dwelling worms as they never come up to the surface.

didymogaster sylvaticus (the squirting worm)
didymogaster sylvaticus (the squirting worm)

The didymogaster sylvaticus can squirt its slime over 30cm while the megascolides australis can squirt slime up to 10cm. The megascolides australis can grow up to 12 feet long and they use their slime to lube their tunnels to protect their sensitive skin.

megascolides australis
megascolides australis

References

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