24 March 2010 ~ 3 Comments

Worm Reproduction…or how they make more worms!

Reproduction dictates survival of a species.  Organisms  like worms which provide food for many others, must reproduce ample offspring to offset predation.  OK, that is a mouthful, right?  But it is true. All the creatures who live in the wild must have food. Worms are an easy target for them.

Here comes a short  anatomy lesson on worms and the red wiggler, in particular. Most worms are hermaphrodites, meaning that each one is both male and female. Impossible you say!  Not so. Read on:  While worms possess both male and female sexual organs, red wigglers cannot produce offspring alone. Red wigglers must join for successful mating and reproduction to occur.

Some species of worms can produce offspring alone, these worms are parthenogenic, meaning they can produce offspring without cross fertilization. Eisenia Fetida are hermaphroditic but not parthenogenic.  Got it?  I knew you would.

When a red wiggler is sexually immature its body segments are uniform throughout its entire length. As it matures, it develops a bulbous gland about one third of the way down its body called the clitellum. It looks like a swollen band around its body. This area produces mucus needed for the cocoon production.

Two worms come together at the clitellum and use their hair-like setae to hold fast to each other. While joined they exchanged seminal fluid. At the same time,  grooves on the underside of the worm help transport the seminal fluid to the seminal vesicles for later use. Each worm begins to secrete a mucus ring around itself.

After being joined  for up to three hours, the worms separate. The mucus on each worm begins to harden as the worm starts to back out of, or slough off, this ring.  During this process the seminal fluid, ovum and aminotic fluid are deposited into the mucus ring. As the ring passes over the worm’s head it seals, forming a lemon shaped, yellow colored cocoon.  Over a period of weeks, the cocoon darkens to a beautiful ruby red as the hatchlings mature.

Here is must be noted that calcium is essential in the worms’ diet.  Without calcium, worms will not reproduce.  In most cases the organic waste you give your worms will have enough calcium in it. But to be sure the worms have an adequate supply, there are three simple ways to provide it:

1) pulverize your eggshells as finely as possible and add them to your bin.

2) grind up a calcium based antiacid tablet and add a teaspoon every week.

3) pick up an agricultural lime ( calcium carbonate) or dolomite ( calcuim-magnesium carbonate) at your local garden center and add a teaspoon weekly to your bin.

Caution: Do NOT use a construction lime such as slaked lime or quick lime as they will both quickly kill the worms.

To Recap:

> it takes two red wigglers to make more worms for your bin.

> during the three hours the two worms are joined: don’t bother them, or you will interrupt their private time, in making more worms for you.

> do ensure the worms have enough calcium, using one of the methods mentioned above.

Next time I will write about the cocoons, hatchlings, juveniles and adult worms and their stages of growth. Until them I hope you enjoy your worm bin and it teaches you more about your worms.

~Shel