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What are Red Wiggler Worms?

By G. Melanson
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Also known as brandling worms, tiger worms, or manure worms, red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) are among the most popular types of earthworms used for organic waste composting, also called vermicomposting. These worms consume items commonly placed in compost bins, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, tea bags, pulverized egg shells, and coffee grinds. After digesting their food, they excrete “castings,” a natural fertilizer that is rich in potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous. These castings may then be used as mulch, plant potting soil supplement, or lawn conditioner. Red wiggler worms are also sometimes used as fishing bait.

Red wiggler worms can be found naturally in manure piles; however, most people find it easier to order them online. Gardening mail-order suppliers and fishing shops often carry them. The number required to effectively compost depends on the amount of food waste, but as a general rule, 1 pound (0.45 kg) of waste materials per day requires 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of worms. Under ideal conditions, red wiggler worms can eat their weight in organic material daily.

Food waste such as meats, dairy products, and grains should be kept out of worm composting, as these are likely to putrefy and attract rodents and flies. If red wiggler worms are taken care of properly during vermicompost, they shouldn’t cause offensive odors. One way of preventing odors during worm composting is to always “bury” new food waste rather than dumping it on top of the compost pile. As well, the compost should be maintained so that the worms are kept away from the castings they produce. Certain vermicompost bins on the market facilitate this separation.

Compared to certain brands of organic fertilizer and even animal manure, worm castings have been shown to cause the least damage to water supplies. Unlike the animals that produce manure used as fertilizer for food crops, worms are incapable of contracting and spreading diseases. In fact, a worm’s digestive track removes the pathogens that cause disease from the food they ingest.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Jun 05, 2014

I am trying to learn more about red wigglers and maybe use them in composting. I have read that unwanted kitchen waste like egg shells and coffee grounds are perfect food for red wiggler worms. The egg shells are said to help the worm's digestive system and aid in reproduction. The shells also improve the pH value of the soil.

By the way, when using egg shells you are supposed to make sure the eggs are clean and none of the inside of the egg is present. The egg whites can carry disease and this could harm the worms

By mobilian33 — On Jun 04, 2014

My grandma loved to fish. Once she got old enough to retire you could usually find her at one pond or another when the weather was right. At the back of her house, there was a drainage pipe that ran from the kitchen sink and fed into a ditch, and then into her garden.

This area stayed moist and was filled with worms. At the time I didn't know what type of worms they were. We just called them baits because grandma used them to catch fish. She would feed the worms meal or flower. I can't remember which, and maybe she fed them both. It was a long time ago.

I remember that you have to be careful when raising them because they need a moist area, but if it is too wet the worms will die. At that time when grandma was raising them, the red wiggler worms were popular for fishing and grandma would also put them in small containers sometimes and sell them to other fishermen.

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