Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris)

loading
Earthworm
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Earthworm fact file

Earthworm description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumAnnelida
ClassOligochaeta
OrderLumbricina
FamilyLumbricidae
GenusLumbricus (1)

The common earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) is an abundant species, which has an important role in the aeration and fertilisation of soil (3). It is the largest British earthworm (4) and has a reddish-brown back, a yellowish underside and an often prominent orange-red 'saddle' region known as the 'clitellum', close to the reproductive organs. Although this earthworm has a cylindrical body, the tail region may become flattened (2). The body is segmented and has visible rings known as ‘annuli’; each segment bears small hairs known as 'chaetae', which help the worm to move through the soil (3).

Size
Length: 9 - 30 cm (2)
Diameter: 0.6 - 0.9 cm (2)
Top

Earthworm biology

The importance of earthworms in the aeration and fertilisation of the soil is well known. They bring organic matter down into their burrows from the surface, and the familiar 'worm casts' consist of soil excreted by earthworms (3). Charles Darwin estimated that the population of earthworms moved 100 tonnes of soil per hectare in a year (4). Oxygen is taken in across the surface of the body, and the skin has to be kept moist to facilitate this process; earthworms only venture to the surface after rain or at night for this reason (3).

All earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning that a single individual possesses both male and female reproductive organs, but self-fertilisation does not occur. On damp days in summer, earthworms surface in order to mate. During copulation, two individuals lie side by side, with their 'head' ends overlapping. The overlapping parts of their bodies become surrounded by a single mucous tube, which holds them closely together. They simultaneously secrete sperm, which passes along a groove in the body of each worm and enters a small sac in the partner. After mating, the worms separate, and the saddle begins to secrete a mucous cylinder into which eggs and sperm are released. The worm wriggles out of the cylinder, which then closes, forming a protective cocoon in which fertilisation and development of the eggs take place (3).

Earthworms have been used for bait by anglers, and are an important food source for many species of mammals and birds. They have been used in folk medicine as a remedy for stomach problems and toothache (4). Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that cutting a worm in half will result in the regeneration of two seperate worms (5).

Top

Earthworm range

The earthworm is widespread and common throughout Britain and Europe, and has been introduced to many other countries (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Earthworm habitat

This wholly terrestrial species lives in pastures and forests, and shows a marked preference for clay soils (2). The earthworm is most numerous in grasslands, including garden lawns (1), and is not adversely affected by cultivation (2).

Top

Earthworm status

The earthworm is common and widespread in Britain (1).

Top

Earthworm threats

The earthworm is not threatened at present.

Top

Earthworm conservation

No conservation action has been targeted at the earthworm.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Find out more

Discover more about invertebrates and their conservation:

Top

Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

Top

Glossary

Hermaphrodites
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Top

References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2003)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Cloudsley-Thompson, J.L. and Sankey, J. (1961) Land invertebrates: a guide to British worms, molluscs and arthropods (excluding insects). Methuen & Co Ltd., London.
  3. Nichols, D., Cooke, J. and Whiteley, D. (1971) The Oxford Book of Invertebrates. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
  5. BBC Wildfacts (March, 2003)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/416.shtml
X
Close

Image credit

Earthworm  
Earthworm

© gettyimages.com

Getty Images
101 Bayham Street
London
NW1 0AG
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 800 376 7981
sales@gettyimages.com
http://www.gettyimages.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog