What is a worm?
A worm is a slinking or burrowing invertebrate animal with a long, slim, soft body and no limbs – instead its body is covered in hairs or bristles which help them to move. Worms breathe through their skin, which needs to stay moist to take in oxygen from the air.
Worms have been around for about 600 million years, which is much longer than people or dinosaurs. There are about 34,000 different types of worm; many are so small you wouldn’t be able to see them without a microscope there is even a worm that is longer than a car!
Worms are hermaphrodite, which means they are both girls and boys at the same time. They need another worm to lay eggs. They lay their eggs, which then hatch as little worms. Some worms can live for as long as 10 years.
What do worms eat?
Worms eat their own weight in food every day. They eat leaves, rotting vegetation, soil and minerals and excrete their own weight in castings every day, which makes the soil healthy and is an important food for plants. One acre of worms can break up about 50 tonnes of soil. Worms don’t eat living plants so won’t hurt plants. Some people keep worms as pets in a wormery, feeding them on scraps from the kitchen and worms then make lots of useful compost for their gardens.
Where do worms live?
Earthworms usually live in soil or mud, as well as compost or even poo! They are found on every continent except Antarctica. British earthworms are in danger from worms from other countries because people clear the vegetation where they live. Introduced earthworms are most common in disturbed environments such as back gardens and farmland.
Interesting worm facts
- If we were the same size as a worm they would still be about 1,000 times stronger than us!
- The African giant earthworm is the longest worm – it can grow up to 6.7m long.
- Worms are very tough. If you accidentally cut an earthworm in half while gardening, only one half will die. The piece with the saddle (the fatter, pink part) will survive.
- They dig deep! When it’s really cold outside in winter or baking hot in the summer, worms are able to survive by burrowing deep into the soil.
- After the rain you may see worms on the surface who want to avoid drowning in overly wet soil.
Let’s find a worm in the garden. Try using a magnifying glass to see if you can see the tiny little bristles or hairs on its body.
Watch worms at work by making a worm farm in a jar in our activities for kids section.