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How Do Worms Reproduce - Everything to Know About the Prolific Red Wiggler Breeding Process (with Photos!)

Red wigglers and compost worms are prolific breeders and under the right conditions can double their population size every 3-4 months through mating. This means that over the course of a single year 1,000 earthworms (around 1lb) can reproduce to a size of 12,000 to 16,000 worms! 

So how do earthworms mate and reproduce babies? Do they reproduce by laying eggs? Is there a mother and a father for each baby worm? Or does a single worm do all the work by itself? 

Let’s dive in for a closer look at the wonderful (and active!) sex life of earthworms.

How Do Worms Reproduce - The Short Answer

It takes two to tango - most worm species like red wigglers and compost worms require a partner to breed and reproduce. 

Earthworms start the reproduction process by laying upside down next to one another and joining their head areas in a tight embrace. 

  • Each worm secretes sperm into tiny storage sacs of their partner. 
  • The worms then untangle and self-secrete a fluid that hardens and becomes the cocoon.
  • This cocoon rolls off the worm’s head, and fertilization occurs when it passes over the ovaries and sperm storage sacs. 
  • From these cocoons tiny worms will hatch anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks or longer based on conditions.

How Do Worms Reproduce - The Details

Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means they have both male (testes) and female (ovaries) reproductive organs. Both of these sexual organs are used when earthworms join and mate during the reproductive cycle.

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One really cool outcome of the earthworm reproduction organs and cycle is that an earthworm can be the genetic mother of some of its offspring and the genetic father of other baby worms. 

So, what are the details behind how worms have babies? As mentioned above, the production process starts with worms laying upside down next to one another and forming a tight embrace.

During this embrace a few things happen. First the worms both produce mucus to form a “tube” for their sperm. Once enough mucus has been secreted, the worms ejaculate sperm into the tube where it travels to the other worm’s sperm sac. 

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This mating process takes 18-24 hours. When finished, the worm mating is done but the reproductive process continues as the worms still have work to do on their own.

The clitellum, the thick ring band of tissue around a worm’s neck, secretes more mucus that hardens into a cocoon and begins to travel up the worm’s neck. As the clitellum passes over the ovaries, eggs stick to the mucus. 

The cocoon then passes over the sperm sac, where sperm comes into contact with the eggs and fertilization occurs.

As the final step in the process, the cocoon completely rolls off of the worm’s heads, seals, and begins the incubation phase before baby worms are born.

Under the right conditions, worm cocoons will hatch in 10-20 days and 2-15 worms (usually 2-3) will hatch from each cocoon. These baby worms are tiny, around 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length (for red wiggler and compost worms) with a whitish/translucent color.

Each baby worm will reach sexual maturity in 60-90 days, where it will being the process of finding a mate and starting the reproductive cycle on its own.

How Do Worms Get Pregnant

Worms aren't technically impregnated in the same way humans are. During the worm reproduction process, assuming it works correctly (which it does most of the time thanks to evolution!), both worms exchange seminal fluid and produce cocoons. The cocoons roll off of the worm's head into the surrounding soil and the baby worms grow inside the cocoons before hatcing.

This worm breeding cycle is a highly efficient process that allows worms to reproduce at high levels in a short amount of time. Just think how fast the human population would reproduce if both parents produced offspring during the reproduction cycle!

How Fast Do Worms Reproduce?

Red wigglers and other earthworm species reproduce very quickly. The entire reproduction process from mating to cocoon hatching is 3-4 weeks and can be as fast as 10-12 days:

Day 1: Worms mate and begin the reproduction process.

Day 3-6: Cocoons are fertilized and roll off of the worm’s head.

Day 10-20: Cocoons hatch

Day 70-100: Baby worms reach sexual maturity and begin the breeding process on their own.

How Often do Worms Reproduce

Under normal to optimal conditions, worms can mate and reproduce a cocoon every week. Assuming 2 baby worms are hatched per cocoon, a single worm can produce over 100 offspring per year. 

However, worms will limit their breeding if temperature, moisture, food, or worm density (too many or too few worms in the area) are not optimal, so conditions in your worm bin need to be monitored closely to attain optimal reproductive success!

FAQS - How Do Worms Reproduce?

How do Earthworms Have Babies? Earthworms mate, each earthworm produces a cocoon, and from each cocoon 2-15 baby worms are hatched.
Do Earthworms Reproduce by Fragmentation? Red wiggler and compost worms reproduce sexually with mates, but some worm species (e.g., flatworms) reproduce asexually through a process called fragmentation (where a worm reproduces by splitting into fragments).
How Do Earthworms Reproduce Sexually or Asexually? Most worm species reproduce sexually through mating process that requires 2 worms exchanging seminal fluid and fertilizing eggs that prodice 2-15 baby worms.
Do Earthworms Get Pregnant? Not in the sense that humans do - earthworms mate and produce cocoons that hatch baby worms (so the babies are not carried to term in their parent’s bodies).
Do Earthworms Reproduce by Laying Eggs? Yes - earthworms reproduce by fertilizing eggs that roll off their heads and hatch in the soil or worm compost bin.
How Long Do earthworms Live? This is a tough one - estimates range from 2-8 years and worms are sexually active for most of their life.

 

Interested in learning more about earthworms and worm composing? Check out other popular articles on our worm composting blog:

 

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