How Do Worms Reproduce? … The Curly Question

Worms mate by lining up their heads and attaching themselves together at the clitella band. It took me 6 months to get this photo!
This picture illustrates how worms reproduce. They mate by lining up their heads and attaching themselves together at the clitella band. It took me 6 months to get this photo!

Worms are hermaphrodite – both male and female. While worms possess both male and female sexual organs, a red wiggler cannot produce offspring alone. So how do worms reproduce exactly? Worms mate by lining up their heads and attaching themselves together at the clitella. A cocoon is then formed at the clitella band. Cocoons are small, lemon shaped and yellowish gold colored.

The average lifespan of a composting worm is about 2 years, and some can live up to as long as 8 years.

How Fast Do Worms Reproduce?

The cycle of how fast worms reproduce depends on:

  • How many worms are active breeders
  • Whether the environment conditions in the bin are favorable for worm reproduction
  • The worm species – For this article I will be referring to the Red Wiggler worm species

In very general terms, a Red worm population can double in number approx every 60 to 90 days.

Worm populations are largely self regulating based on available space and food supply. If the population of worms overcrowds for instance, their reproduction will adjust and slow down.

Compost worm eggs / cocoons found in the worm bin.
Compost worm eggs / cocoons found in the worm bin.

A mature worm can produce 2-3 cocoons per week. For Red Wigglers, the hatchlings inside the cocoon can take up to 11 weeks to mature before they hatch. Each cocoon usually hatches 2 to 4 baby worms.

 

If the conditions are not right for hatching, such as dryness, cocoons can be dormant for years. So if you go away on holiday and your worm population sharply declines – don’t stress! There will be a new batch of worms cocoons ready to hatch when you get back.

How to Identify Active Breeders

An active worm breeder can be identified form their distinctive ring called a clitella band
An active worm breeder can be identified form their distinctive ring called a clitella band, shown above in the red box.

You can identify active breeders by their distinctive ring shaped white band. The technical term is a clitella band.

A clitella band forms near the worms anterior (head end) when the worm is around 4 to 6 weeks old for Red Wigglers. They start laying worm eggs (cocoons) when they are 2 or 3 months old.

Favorable Conditions for Worm Reproduction

Worms have adapted for life in an often-rapidly-changing environment. Worm reproduction rates respond to natural cues as a way to ensure the survival of their species.

The following changes can have an impact on worm reproduction:

Composting worms tend to reproduce more at cooler temperatures.

Enticing worms into small spaces increases the likelihood of reproduction. For example, you could create enclosed areas inside the bin. I often find clusters of tiny worms in egg shells – little “worm honeymoon suites”.

References

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