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Meet the Species: Earthworms?

Many people don’t know that the name earthworm is a catch all term for a large group of tube-shaped, segmented worms. Many of these species can be found throughout the UK, often within a few metres of the surface.

Species of worms are most commonly hermaphroditic, possessing both eggs and sperm, which are most commonly exchanged on the surface, by entwining with each other. The young are born from small eggs, as miniature, perfectly formed versions of the adults. As you’d expect, no parental care is exhibited and within a few months the cycle will be repeated as the young develop their own reproductive organs. Maturity can most easily be distinguished by a saddle along the body, which will be wider and a darker colour than the rest of the body.

During their time underground they often consume organic materials such as decaying leaves and rotting vegetation.

Their skin exudes a lubricating fluid which in turn helps them travel through the soil, creating burrows and pathways, which can be helpful for aeration and stopping harmful gases from building up.

However in some places, worms have damaged the ecosystem by consuming the decaying vegetation which other insects and plants need to grow. Without the vital nutrients, huge levels of vegetation and insects have died off which, in turn has impacted all the way through the food chain. Meaning that although earthworms do a helpful job in the right circumstances, they should never be introduced to anywhere they are not endemic to, not even for gardening or composting.

To learn more about earth worms in the United Kingdom and have a go identifying the species in your own garden, follow this link to opals key to common British earthworms.

Opal’s Guide to Identifying British Earthworms

Alexander S. Howson

Alexander S. Howson is a naturalist and nature writer.

Along with a heavy interest in Aquatics, birds and ecology. Alexander now directs a large deal of energy attempting to re-educate the public about aquatics and promoting the conservation of a range of wildlife species.

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