How Do Earthworms Reproduce

by Sam Richards | Last Updated: January 11, 2021

Despite their small sizes, earthworms can benefit the soil by aerating it. They do so by enriching and burrowing the soil every time they eat and expel organic matter. If you want to use earthworms as compost for your garden, then you have to know a thing or two about how they reproduce. That way, you will be aware of the reproductive habits of earthworms that will make vermicomposting, the process of raising worms to produce compost, easier.

Earthworms as a Hermaphrodite

One fact about earthworms that you have to be aware of is that they are hermaphroditic. In other words, they live with the sex organs of both males and females. With that said, you can’t categorize them as male or female. However, it does not necessarily mean that earthworms are capable of reproducing themselves, though it is possible considering their orientation.

In most cases, they will still have to look for another earthworm that is already mature sexually to mate with. This means that every mature earthworm is capable of mating and reproducing with another mature earthworm inside the bin.

You may find this scenario strange but it is the reason why they can increase their population easily and speedily. They have several potential partners. As a matter of fact, their population tends to double every two to three months.

The Mating or Reproductive Process

For the reproductive process to be successful, it is important for two earthworms to be sexually mature. You can identify sexual maturity with the help of the clitellum, which refers to the thick band that you can find close to the head of the worm. It is the reproductive organ of worms.

The reproduction process starts with the act of mating, which will usually look like two sexually mature worms hugging each other. The mating usually lasts for around one to three hours. After the mating, the two involved earthworms separate. The clitellum will then encircle a tiny part of the mid-section of their body. It is when a new kind of mucus will be secreted.

Once the earthworm moves, you can expect the secreted mucus to pass over the sac holding the eggs. When that happens, expect the eggs to attach to the secreted mucus. Afterward, the egg and mucus mixture will transmit the receptacles holding the sperm. This is the sperm released by the other mature earthworm during the mating process. It is the time when the earthworm can fully detach the body from the mucus, leading to the release of a cocoon containing fertilized egg to the soil.

When that happens, expect the embryo to be developed inside the cocoon. They will get completely developed within sixty to ninety days (2 to 3 months). Once fully developed, they will come out from the cocoon to live and survive. This reproduction process often occurs every seven to ten days.

Can Earthworms Reproduce on their Own?

The answer is yes. The reason is that there are earthworm species who are capable of reproducing even without a sexual partner. This process is referred to as parthenogenesis, a kind of reproduction process, which is beneficial in habitats with conditions that make it hard to find a partner. One thing that these earthworms can do is regenerate new segments whenever they lose some.

The majority of earthworms work better when it comes to regenerating tails, instead of the head. However, it is not possible for them to reproduce asexually. Also, note that only half of it that is split into two can be regenerated and formed into a full earthworm again.

You can expect parthenogenic worms to be present in decaying matter or shallow soil. Meanwhile, those who need to mate with a sexually mature worm usually live in more stable conditions, like deeper soil.

The Lifespan

From the moment the earthworms come out of the cocoon to the time they die, their lifespan will vary significantly. It will most likely depend on the earthworm species. For instance, the nightcrawler can live for around 6 to 9 years on average. There are even those who can live and survive a max of 20 years.

Red worms, on the other hand, have lifespans of between 2 to 5 years. You can also find gray worms who tend to live and survive under the soil surface and have a lifespan of at least one year to more than two years on average.

Conclusion

With the hermaphroditic nature of earthworms, anyone who wants to become a vermicomposter will surely have a hassle-free experience growing them. You can easily and quickly increase their numbers considering their rapid and hassle-free reproduction capabilities.

Just make sure that you give them the correct environment for the reproduction process to take place successfully. Once they come out of their cocoons, give them the best environment, too.

Focus on meeting their specific care requirements as far as temperature, aeration, food material, pH level, and moisture are concerned. The reason is that those are the main environmental factors that will affect not only their growth and health but also their ability to reproduce.