Worms are living compost machines, taking in garbage at one end and delivering a nutrient-rich compost at the other. Worms are annelids, meaning that they have a cylindrical body that is segmented into separate sexes both inside and outside. Of the more than 2,500 species of earthworms, two varieties of red worms, Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus, are favorites for composting.
Earthmovers and Composters
There are two basic kinds of red worms, earthmovers and composters.
The solitary earth movers tunnel through the earth, decompacting, aerating and mixing soil so that nutrients can move from the surface to plant roots.
The composters, of which the red worms Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubuellus are examples, live in masses and work on the surface, consuming bacteria in dead animals, vegetation and manure, turning it into humus.
The worm most commonly used for composting is E. fetida, also called red wigglers, red worms, manure worm, and branding worm. A red wiggler is about 1.5 to 2.5 inches long and in addition to being good for composting is often used as fish bait.
Each E. fetida will produce from two to five cocoons each week, each of which will hatch two or three worms in about 45 days. A red wiggler lives from two to five years.
E. fetida can be threaded whole on a #6 or smaller hook and will continue to wiggle in temperatures of 38 to 40 degrees F. It's a favorite bait for pan fish and trout.
This worm, which grows to 4 inches long as an adult, is also called the garden worm, angle worm, leaf worm, drift worm, red wiggler or red March worm.
L. rubellus is longer than E. fetida and is popular as bait for bass, large fish and saltwater fish. They can be stored for weeks in the refrigerator or in cups at room temperature.
L. rubellus will survive at 38 to 40 degrees F, making it a better cold weather worm than Eisenia fetida.
Eisenia Andrei, also called the red tiger worm, tiger worm, a close relative of E. fetida, is purplish deep red in color with the segments marked by a yellow band. They are said to exude an unpleasant smell.
Eisenia hortensis, known as the European night crawler, breeds slower than E. fetida, requiring at least 18 months under the best circumstances to establish a stable, maximum population. They like cool temperatures and a moist environment. E. hortensis is a better bait worm than it is a composting worm.
Perionyx excavates, also known as the blue worm, is a native of the American South. Too small to use as bait, P. excavates is temperamental; it likes warm temperatures, and is considered by some to be a nuisance. A prolific breeder, it can crowd E. fetida out of a compost bin.
Lumbricus terristris, also called the Canadian night crawler, is a large worm often grown for bait and not usually recommended for composting.