Friend or Foe?
Earthworms: Friends in Low Places
By Jenny Kishiyama, Fairfax Master Gardener Intern
As I was pulling weeds and tidying up the wilder areas of my yard, I noticed earthworms zipping out of the ground to be out of harm’s way. Who knew they were so fast! Intrigued, I wondered how fast they could travel. I never did find out, but I learned many other fascinating things.
There are approximately 2,700 earthworm species all working as natural recyclers. They are separated into three ecological categories based on their feeding and burrowing habits:
- Epigeic: Leaf litter- or compost-dwelling worms are non-burrowing and feed mainly on organic matter. They are adapted to the highly variable moisture and temperature conditions at the soil surface.
- Endogeic: Topsoil-dwelling worms feed on soil that has partially decomposed organic matter already incorporated. They create horizontal burrows in the upper 4 to 12 inches of soil.
- Anecic: These subsoil-dwelling worms construct permanent vertical burrows 5 to 6 feet deep. They ingest substantial amounts of soil but need surface litter to live, pulling it down into their burrows to feed on.
The Lumbricus terrestris