Red Wigglers vs Earthworms in Compost

I promised a post on Red Wigglers vs Earthworms in my Vermicomposting post and here it is! Vermicomposting is composting using worms and there is definitely a difference between red wigglers vs earthworms in vermicomposting.

red wigglers vs earthworms. Learn the difference so you can better use them in vermicompost and your garden! Found at www.PintSizeFarm.com

red wigglers vs earthworms. Learn the difference so you can better use them in compost and your garden!

When I lived in the midwest and heard “worm” the first thing that came to mind was the large earthworms that you find on the driveways and in the streets after a large rainstorm or the worms that you use in fishing. I never really gave red wigglers vs earthworms a though.  When I began vermicomposting and gardening I learned that the types of worms you find after a rainstorm are usually dew worms or nightcrawlers. You can sometimes find red wiggler worms in bait shops (although those are usually nightcrawlers since nightcrawlers are larger and a larger size makes a better fishing worm). Here are the basic differences between red wigglers vs earthworms (and how knowing these differences can help you in both your garden and compost).

Red Wigglers vs Earthworms: Nightcrawlers

Earthworms are the same as nightcrawlers. These are the types of worms you find on your street and driveway after a rainstorm. There are a few theories as to why earthworms surface after a rainstorm. These include:

  • Earthworms require oxygen and if their tunnel is filled with water they will have to come to the surface to get it. Earthworms “breathe” through their skin so their skin has to stay moist (which is why you can find dried out worms by the middle of the day).
  • Since an earthworms skin has to stay moist a rainstorm gives them the unique opportunity to move quickly over land.
  • Earthworms have an easier time mating at the surface (it is easier to find each other).
  • Earthworms are very sensitive to poisons since they breathe through their skin. Rain could be washing pesticide into their tunnels so they have to leave to escape it.
Should you use red wiggler worms or earthworms for composting? Post at www.pintsizefarm.com

What is the difference between red wiggler worms vs earthworms?

The main difference between red wigglers vs earthworms is what they eat and live. An earthworm eats soil. It gets it's nutritional needs from the living things in the soil (fungi, protozoa, bacteria, etc). They leave “castings” behind that are great for your garden (yep, just a fancy way of saying worm poop). They also aerate the soil when they burrow into it. These types of earthworms can (and do) live deep in the soil.

Red Wigglers vs Earthworms: Compost Worms

Red wigglers are sometimes known as compost worms. A red wiggler worm is segmented just like a nightcrawler, but it is smaller (which is why you generally do not find it in a bait shop).

Remember, the main difference between red wigglers vs earthworms is in what they eat and how they live. More specifically:

  • The nightcrawler/dew worm eats soil, a red wiggler eats decaying matter. Red wigglers like manure, vegetable matter, rotten fruit, etc. Red wiggler worms will actually eat your kitchen waste.
  • Red wigglers also tend to live closer to the surface of the soil compared to nightcrawlers (in the top 6 inches or so) and can tolerate a more crowded environment and higher temperatures.

Vermicomposting is a great way to create fast, healthy compost for your garden. Head over to my post on vermicomposting to see how to compost using worms!

Red Wigglers vs Earthworms for your Garden

When talking about red wigglers vs earthworms for a garden, earthworms win. Since Earthworms eat soil (and the organisms living in the soil) they are great for your garden.

  • The castings left behind are a great fertilizer.
  • Earthworms aerate the soil while crawling through it.
  • Earthworms can live deep in the ground so they can move to where there is moisture and the soil is the right temperature.
  • Earthworms need cool soil. A compost gets very hot and will kill earthworms.
  • Earthworms do not tolerate a crowded environment as well (and if you want them to eat your food waste then more worms is better).

Red wigglers are great for the garden because the compost they create is (and also the compost tea you can make). But, the worms themselves will not do well (or much good) in your garden soil.

Follow Heidi Ramsey's board Composting & Soil on Pinterest.

Red Wigglers vs Earthworms for Vermicomposting

When talking about red wigglers vs earthworms, red wigglers win in the vermicomposting ring. Red wigglers make great worms for compost or vermicompost.

  • Red wigglers eat organic matter so they will eat your kitchen scraps that you throw in the compost bin (earthworms will not)
  • Red wigglers stay at the top of the soil so they will be fine in a shallow worm bin
  • Red wigglers live in warm soils (compost can get pretty hot)

Earthworms are great for your garden, but they will die in a compost bin (from a lack of food and it will be too hot).

How Many Red Wigglers Should You Get?

The number of red wiggler worms (or compost worms) you need to vermicompost depends on the amount of food you want to compost. A red wiggler can eat half of it's weight in food each day. That means if you produce a half pound of food waste each day you need a pound of red wiggler worms (which will be 800-1000 worms). You can always start with a smaller amount and allow them to reproduce to the level that you require. If you notice food not being eaten quickly (within a day or two) then take it out and start giving them less or add more red wigglers!

  • 1 pound of Red Wiggler Worms for every 1/2 pound of daily food waste you produce

You can usually purchase a pound of red wigglers for $20-$30 or two pounds for $35-$45.

You can purchase them online or at a local nursery or bait shop. I have purchased Red wiggler worms from Amazon a couple of times now and they come to the house ready to go. They are a little dehydrated (and therefore small) after shipping so make sure to get them into a moist worm bin quickly. They tend to plump up in a matter of days. Just make sure you get the red wiggler worms if you are going to use them for vermicomposting or earthworms if you are using them for your garden!

  • Reply Brian August 17, 2013, 6:38 am

    Thanks for the link back to my page, and great article too!
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  • Reply Monica March 28, 2015, 11:05 am

    Ooohhh… I know someday I’ll be getting into caring about worms for my garden and compost heap but they creep me out! It’ll probably be next year that I work up to this topic!

    • Reply Heidi March 28, 2015, 11:17 am

      As far as the garden goes, if you create good soil the worms will find it – no messing necessary (although I still liked to add some for a boost.

  • Reply FRANKIE HANNA March 28, 2015, 9:21 pm

    Is it true if you cut a earthworm in pieces it they will grow into more earthworms?

    • Reply Heidi March 28, 2015, 10:22 pm

      Nope. Earthworms actually have a full organ system and a head/tail end. If the bottom is cut then sometimes (if the stress was not too much for it) it can grow a new bottom end. This is to help protect from a bird that grabs it and tries to pull it from a hole. The bottom piece will definitely die. If it is cut in half then more than likely both ends will die (too much stress and you might hit some major organs). In general, there is a chance it (the head end) will live if it loses the bottom third or less.

  • Reply heather March 30, 2015, 7:04 am

    great post! I honestly didn’t know there were so many differences in the worms. Looks like both are needed for a great garden, though…some for the beds, some for the compost.

  • Reply Clancy Nicole Harrison April 1, 2015, 2:58 am

    We have red worms and I cannot keep them alive. I think the temperature is bad for them! Thank you for the explanation between the different worms.

  • Reply Sandy Surface May 3, 2015, 7:52 pm

    I have SO many worms where I live in Southern Michigan. We planted about three acres of different types of pine trees when I was about 9 or 10 (I’m 64 now!). I can put a shovel in the ground and literally have about 30 worms each shovelful. I just don’t know what kind they are. Some are huge, some are just “average” (if worms have an average size!). Are they good for fishing? I could probably be a millionaire if they are! I’ve just been shoveling them up and putting them around the plants throughout the yard. If there’s a way to tell the difference, I’d love to know how. Thanks! Sandy

    • Reply Heidi May 4, 2015, 6:35 pm

      That is awesome! And, yep, great fishing worms. Probably earthworms/nightcrawlers. Go out one night before or after a rainstorm and you will probably find that most of them have climbed to the surface. It is a creepy, but awe-inspiring sight to see thousands of worms around you!
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  • Reply Heidi September 23, 2015, 12:46 pm

    I have an outdoor planter garden. The planters measure 3 & 3/4 feet long, 1 & 1/2 feet deep, and only about a foot wide. I would like to get some worms for the planters. I thought earth worms might be best, but I am blender composting (compost goes into the blender to form a smoothie, I pour in troughs I dig in the planters). So, I’m really not sure which type of worm would be best in this case. What do you think?

    • Reply Heidi January 12, 2016, 2:24 pm

      Earthworms 🙂 That is a good way to compost. If the compost gets too acidic (or anything else) then the earthworms can move from it. Red Wigglers like manure especially (which I’m guessing isn’t in your blender compost) and since they live near the surface they don’t do so well in planter gardens.
      Heidi recently posted…Bathroom Recycling Tips – Living GreenMy Profile

  • Reply devan paulson October 28, 2015, 10:42 am

    thanks that helped for my science project. good job 🙂

  • Reply Mark Jordan November 1, 2015, 5:02 pm

    I had about 500 red wrigglers in a large pot 36″×12″×14″ fill with cow manure. No lid or cover the worms seem quiet happy. Then move about 400 worms to worm compost broccoli boxs. Bedding moistened news paper old eculytpus leaves and bottlebrush leaves couple hand fulls of cow manure and little bit of kitchen scraps potatoe peels pumpkin, sweet potatoe egg shells all put through blender. Put lid on broccoli boxs. Check a week later see how there going left with about 20 red wrigglers. Maybe not enough air circulation I don’t know. Australia nsw Wyong

    • Reply Heidi January 12, 2016, 2:17 pm

      I would guess that the eucalyptus leaves caused the deaths, but it could have been other things (too moist, too dry, too warm, too cold…). Once you get the environment down worms are super easy to keep, but sometimes it takes a little while to get it perfect (even when you have another one going just fine).
      Heidi recently posted…Bathroom Recycling Tips – Living GreenMy Profile

  • Reply Mark Jordan January 13, 2016, 3:22 am

    Yes not shore what I did wrong when I first started growing feeding the worms. Now I have 2 ×25 gallon bins and a 40 gallon bin. All worms collected from horse stud. Hard work 500 to 1000 worms an hour going through the manure piles. Now have 3 bins approximate 5000 worms between them. Feed them kitchen scrapes cow and horse manure and straw and sometimes seaweed all is aged. Plus 3 breeder boxes only feed manures straw and sawdust. Next I like to build a flow through box about a metre wide 1500 long and 600 deep. 36× 54 × 24 . Once my bins have about 10,000 between them or more. Hard to find a horse stud here that stockpiles there manure. A lot horse studs send there manure away by the skip bin full.

  • Reply joann sapaugh March 3, 2017, 5:40 pm

    I have a horse manure pile that I added red worms to 3 years ago. the last 2 years I have not used the soil. This year the worms have multiplied hugely. Is there a market for people to buy directly from my property?

  • Reply Maria August 26, 2017, 7:45 am

    Hi Heidi,
    Thanks for the great article. I have only recently got into the worm ‘business’ by randomly finding what looked like poop (worm poop after all) under my house plants pots. Turns out a large number of small red worms lived in the pot which was as big as my fist. No plant was in there, just soil and the occasional fruit/ veg I threw inside. For ages I thought that what I saw was soil but it turns out it was all worm poop (this makes me think that my worms are earthworms and they ate the soil?). I took them all out fearing they woul die due to lack of soil and put them in other pots (I don’t have a garden). Some are tiny, one of them wasn’t however, maybe five cm! Could you please help me identify them? I would like to create a worm bin to recycle my leftover plants and fruit, plus collect lovely compost for my plants. I don’t have access to manure so I was wondering if the worms would survive without it?

    Many thanks in advance

  • Reply Prem kambang December 10, 2017, 2:58 am

    Well, I don’t know much about worms but I only know is worms that are used for fishing. And I would like to know that do the fishing worms can produce compost? Cuz I am planning to have some worms for composting. Thanks.

  • Reply Ines Illgen January 11, 2018, 5:43 pm

    I managed to rescue several dozen red wigglers (long story) and wonder if that’s enough to start a little composting farm. I live in a retirement-community apartment and would have plenty of food for them from the kitchen scraps and salad bar leftovers. Among the mature worms I noted many (maybe hundreds) of tiny white wigglers which I hope are the baby worms, but I want to be sure. And if they are babies I would also like to know if there’s anything special about caring for them to ensure their growth to maturity. I’ve got plastic buckets with drilled holes, shredded newspaper and cardboard for bedding. All the worms are living in a huge amount of muddy substance which I assume to be a mixture of dirt, food and casts. They are not just in one spot and at present, can’t be easily separated. They were in a baby wading pool and I divided them and the muddy mix into the buckets I have. Is there a better way for me to keep the babies until they mature that doesn’t take up so much space? Could they flourish in flower pots with growing plants if I supply them with pieces of melon in half an egg shell or banana peels for their food and home?

  • Reply Clark Peak July 24, 2018, 11:42 pm

    Awesome job really it’s a great article.

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