6 things you didn't know about earthworms

Aristotle realised the huge importance of worms, calling them ‘the intestines of the earth’, but we know surprisingly little about their distribution and habitat preferences.

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Lumbricus terrestris earthworm

Lumbricus terrestris earthworm © Harry Taylor / NHM

 

1. In the UK

We have 29 species of worm in the UK, and 31 including Ireland. A suburban garden is likely to hold about seven or eight different species.

2. Longest UK species

The largest earthworm in Britain is Lumbricus terrestris, which can grow to over 30cm long and is also known as ‘the night crawler’.

3. Longest species in the world

The longest known earthworm in the world, stretching to more than 2m, is the Australian Giant Gippsland earthworm Megascolides australis. Sadly, this giant is listed as a vulnerable species under the The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

4. Where to find them

Earthworms can be found in almost all areas of the globe and in all sorts of habitat: tropical rainforests, on mountains, in the branches of trees, and even in birds' nests. The exception is extreme deserts.

5. Worms can be shiny

Some Asian species, which can sometimes survive as small populations in UK greenhouses, have a beautiful blue green iridescence. These worms can also jump!

Microscolex phosphoreus, which can glow, is occasionally found here - often on golf courses, where it annoys the golfers by producing tiny casts.

Iridescence on Amynthas rodericensis © Debbie Fynn

6. Fried eggs and worms

The ‘fried egg worm’ in the Philippines is so named because it appears to have tiny fried eggs along its body.

The 'fried egg worm', Archipheretima middletoni © Sam James

 

Highlights of the worm enthusiast’s calendar include:

Blackawton International Worm Charming Festival, Devon

Teams are challenged to persuade as many worms as possible to come to the surface without digging. See http://bit.ly/1ieCr1N

Cordova Iceworm Festival, Alaska

This festival celebrates the iceworm Mesenchytraeus solifugus. This small oligochaete worm lives in the ice; it has a type of antifreeze within it and feeds on bits of algae. The next event is February 1 - 5, 2017. See http://bit.ly/2iV4lpo

The Karmai Giant Worm Festival, Korumbarra, Australia

Running for 20 years, this festival probably saved the town from economic collapse after the local mine closed in the 1970s. Korumbarra falls within the territory of the Giant Gippsland earthworm (see above), and decided to celebrate its local hero.

Both the festival and its star, a 100-metre-long worm puppet, were named Karmai after the Aboriginal word for earthworm. This extraordinary story is celebrated by Melita Rowston’s Giant Worm Show at the Fringe in Adelaide and Syney during 2017. See http://bit.ly/2j95maW

Find out more about earthworms in the UK

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