UK earthworms commonly associated with worm composting

July 23, 2011

in Composting, Worm composting and worms

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A few species of UK earthworms, many used rightly and in some cases wrongly for composting purposes!

Dendrodrilus rubidus

This small earthworm ranges in colour from dark red to pink on the upper surface, being paler below. It often has a conspicuous yellow tip to its tail, from which it gets the anglers’ name of gilt tail. It is common in the surface layer of decomposing leaves in woodland, and can sometimes be seen underneath the bark of decaying logs. It can be found under dung in pastures and is often very abundant in compost and manure heaps.


Eisenia fetida
This moderate-sized earthworm has a very distinctive striped appearance. The pink to purplish red pigmentation occurs in bands separated by unpigmented areas which have a yellowish hue. The red pigmentation is largely restricted to the upper surface of the body. The common names of brandling and tiger worm refer to the stripy appearance, the red streaks supposedly resembling brand marks. The brandling is sometimes found in deep woodland leafmould. It can be extremely abundant in manure and compost heaps. When the worm is irritated it exudes a musty (foetid) yellow fluid onto the body through small pores on the upper surface. This seems to be a defence against predators, the characteristic red and yellow stripes being a warning to predators to leave it well alone. This species grows and reproduces extremely quickly and is much used in worm farming. Although far from being a typical earthworm in its way of life this species is frequently used to test the toxicity of soil pollutants. Widely used in many parts of the world, including USA and Australia for composting and for good reason.

Eisenia andrei
This species differs from Eisenia fetida in only one easily visible feature: it is uniformly reddish in colour. Eisenia andrei and Eisenia fetida are sometimes regarded as the same species, though some call this species the red tiger worm.



Eisenia hortensis
This is a small earthworm that has a pinkish colouration at the front end of the body but is mainly greyish in colour when, as is usually the case, the gut is full of soil. When it has not been feeding it is pale pink in colour. The tip of the tail is cream or pale yellow. This species is found in deep woodland litter and in garden soils that are rich in organic matter, including under compost heaps. Make a better fisherman bait than composting food waste worm.


Eisenia veneta
This earthworm is like a large version of Eisenia fetida, with its stripy
appearance and the same habit of exuding yellow fluid onto its skin when irritated. It is also found in the same kinds of habitat, which can include leaf litter, manure heaps, organic rich soils, garden compost heaps and wet, decaying leaf litter.



Lumbricus rubellus
This moderate sized earthworm is purplish red in colour on the upper surface,pale below. it is found in a very wide range of soils, being especially abundant where the soil is organically rich, such as under dung in pastures. The names red worm, redhead worm and marsh worm have been used for this species.


Lumbricus terrestris
Our largest British earthworm is purplish red above, the pigmentation often being largely present at the front end of the body, on the upper surface. The tail is often distinctly flattened at the end. Lumbricus terrestris is found in a wide range of soils. It burrows deeply, down to over a metre, but stretches out onto the soil surface at night to feed on plant debris and mate. Regularly seen mating on lawns during the night and on lawns after a heavy downpour. The hind end of the body usually remains in the burrow, anchoring the worm so that if danger threatens it can rapidly retreat to safety. A popular angling bait, this species has a variety of common names including lob and dew worm and night crawler. Feeds on decaying plant materials and fallen leaves. Does not make a suitable candidate for composting!

With thanks to Dr. Trevor Piearce, Lancaster University, for information and photographs

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Savaş March 8, 2015 at 11:57 am

Hi! The photos aren’t here in the page. I can not see them. I think they are erased or something like that. Can you refresh them please.



nurturingnature March 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Hi Sava, I will if I can find them they are several years old now! Thanks for bringing this to my attention. George


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