Research Team

Debunking Misconceptions and Understanding Their Diversity

July 22, 2023

Earthworms are incredibly diverse creatures, with over 6000 known species worldwide. However, many misconceptions surround these little soil-dwellers, leading to a lack of understanding of their habits and habitats. In this blog post, we'll explore the different types of earthworms and debunk common misconceptions about their lifestyles.

Earthworms: More Than Just Soil Dwellers:

Contrary to popular belief, not all earthworms exclusively live in the soil. Earthworms can be categorized into three ecological types based on their habitat depth and tunneling behavior: Epigeic, Endogeic, and Anecic.

Epigeic Earthworms: These earthworms reside on the soil surface among organic-rich materials like leaf piles or animal feces compost. They don't create distinctive tunnels and are characterized by smaller size, darker body colors, high mobility, and strong reproductive abilities. Some examples found in Taiwan include the Indian blue worm and Schu's worm.

Endogeic Earthworms: These worms do live in the soil, but they don't create prominent tunnels. They have horizontally developed tunnel systems within 30 centimeters of the soil. Endogeic earthworms can be further divided into "Upper Endogeic" and "Lower Endogeic" based on their activity depth. They generally have lighter body colors and slower growth compared to Epigeic earthworms.

Anecic Earthworms: These earthworms also live in the soil but possess vertically deep burrowing tunnel systems, reaching depths of meters. They have slower growth and larger body sizes compared to Endogeic earthworms. Interestingly, Anecic earthworms often come to the surface at night or after rain, displaying better mobility.

Earthworms Beyond Terrestrial Habitats:

Apart from the three terrestrial ecological types, some earthworms inhabit areas near water bodies, beaches, or even within the sediment of water bodies, making them semi-aquatic or aquatic. Additionally, certain earthworm species reside in decaying wood or arboreal environments, attached to specific tree species.

Earthworm Diets: Herbivorous or Geophagous?

The claim that "earthworms all eat soil" is a misconception. Earthworms can be classified into herbivorous and geophagous based on their dietary preferences.

Herbivorous Earthworms: These worms directly consume plant-based materials such as fallen branches, leaves, rotting fruits, fungi, and feces. Most Epigeic earthworms fall into this category.

Geophagous Earthworms: These earthworms consume soil along with pollen, spores, nematodes, fungi, protozoa, bacteria, and other organic debris. Many Endogeic earthworms exhibit this dietary preference.

Dual-Diet Earthworms: Some earthworm species have a combination of herbivorous and geophagous diets, consuming both plant-based debris and soil. They are found in the interface between soil surface and lower layers, some Upper Endogeic earthworms, and numerous Anecic earthworms.

Conclusion:

Earthworms are incredibly diverse, with a range of habitats and dietary preferences. Understanding the various ecological types and debunking common misconceptions about these intriguing creatures helps us appreciate their vital role in soil health and ecosystem balance. So, the next time you encounter an earthworm, remember that there's so much more to these fascinating creatures than meets the eye.

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