Earthworm Facts

earthworm facts

How long do  worms live?
How many young are produced per year?   
Do earthworms have eyes?

How do earthworms breathe?
Can earthworms smell?
Do worms have eyes?
What do earthworms eat and how much can they eat in one day?
Can earthworms freeze?
What is the “bump” in the middle of the earthworm?
How can you determine if an earthworm is sexually mature?
Can earthworms lose their clitellum?
How do earthworms mate? 
How are cocoons produced?
How long does it take worms to hatch?
How many young worms are produced per year?
How long does it take earthworms to mature?
Can different species of worms mate creating a hybrid worm?
How long do earthworms live?
How do earthworms move?
What characteristics are used to identify earthworms?
What enemies do earthworms have?
Can earthworms regenerate themselves?
How can you distinguish the head of an earthworm from the tail?
How do earthworms obtain their food?
How big do earthworms get?

Read Our Q&A About Earthworm Facts

Q. How long do dew worms live?

A. Dew worms can live for approximately six and a half years.

Q. How many young are produced per year?

A. It is estimated that sexually mature dew worms (about one year old) produce about two cocoons per year with 1-2 young each (more research under field and laboratory conditions required).

Q. Do earthworms have eyes?

A. They do not have eyes but they do possess light- and touch-sensitive organs (receptor cells) to distinguish differences in light intensity and to feel vibrations in the ground.

Q. How do earthworms breathe?

A. Earthworms respire through their skin, and therefore require humid conditions to prevent drying out. They coat themselves in mucus to enable the passage of dissolved oxygen into their bloodstream.

Q. Can earthworms smell?

A. Worms have specialized chemoreceptors or sense organs (“taste receptors”) which react to chemical stimuli. These sense organs are located on the anterior part of the worm.

Q. What do earthworms eat and how much can they eat in one day?

A. Earthworms derive their nutrition from many forms of organic matter in soil, things like decaying roots and leaves, and living organisms such as nematodes, protozoans, rotifers, bacteria, fungi. They will also feed on the decomposing remains of other animals. They can consume, in just one day, up to one third of their own body weight.


Q. Can earthworms freeze?

A. Like all invertebrates their body processes or metabolism slow down with falling temperatures. They will hibernate at near freezing temperature. If frozen they will die. They react to advancing colder winter weather by burrowing deep (up to two meters) in the soil to avoid the extreme cold.

Q. What is the “bump” in the middle of the earthworm?

A. The bump is the clitellum, the saddle shaped swollen area 1/3 of the way back containing the gland cells which secrete a slimy material (mucus) to form the cocoon which will hold the worm embryos.

Q. How can you determine if an earthworm is sexually mature?

A. If the worm has a clitellum, it is sexually mature.

Q. Can earthworms lose their clitellum?

A. The answer is yes! During periods of drought, when soils dry up, some species of earthworms do in fact temporarily lose all secondary sexual characters such as the clitellum. When conditions become favorable, it comes back. The clitellum can also disappear at the onset of old age or senescence.

Q. How do earthworms mate?


A. Earthworms are hermaphroditic meaning each worm has organs of both sexes. The male gonopores are usually within the first 12-15 segments, and the female gonopores are further back, close to the clitellum (the swollen area in adult worms). One worm has to find another worm and they mate juxtaposing opposite gonadal openings exchanging packets of sperm, called spermatophores. Some species also appear to be either parthenogenetic (females producing all females, “virgin birth”) or may be able to self-fertilize.


Q. How are cocoons produced?

A. The clitellum produces a mucous sheath and nutritive material, and as the sheath slides forward, it picks up ova from the earthworm’s ovaries then packets of sperm that had been transferred to the worm from another worm during mating. As the sheath slides off the worm’s head, the ends are sealed to form the cocoon. Initially, the cocoon is quite soft but soon after it is deposited in the soil it becomes slightly amber in color, leather-like and very resistant to drying and damage.Earthworm eggs
Dendrobaena rubidus cocoons (relative to a pin head).

The ova within each cocoon are fertilized, and the resulting embryos grow inside the sealed unit, much like a chick developing inside an egg. When the embryos have consumed all the nutritive material, they completely fill the lemon shaped cocoon and are ready to hatch out one end.

Q. How long does it take worms to hatch?

A. Young worms hatch from their cocoons in three weeks to five months as the gestation period varies for different species of worms. Conditions like temperature and soil moisture factor in here…if conditions are not great then hatching is delayed.

Q. How many young worms are produced per year?

A. Earthworms can produce between 3 and 80 cocoons per year depending on the species. The deeper-dwelling species don’t have to produce as many cocoons because they are protected much better from predation than surface dwelling species which tend to produce many more cocoons. The number of fertilized ova or eggs within each cocoon ranges from one to twenty. This depends on the species and also factors such as nutrition of the adults laying them and environmental conditions with soil moisture being most important. Usually, though, only few to several young worms will ever successfully emerge from each cocoon.

Q. How long does it take earthworms to mature?

A. Worms mature in 10 – 55 weeks depending on the species.

Q. Can different species of worms mate creating a hybrid worm?

A. No, this does not usually occur; hybrids can usually only occur between very closely related species and their offspring would likely be infertile.

Q. How long do earthworms live?

A. Earthworm longevity is species dependent. Various specialists report that certain species have the potential to live 4-8 years. In protected culture conditions (no predators, ideal conditions) individuals of Allolobophora longa have been kept up to 10 1/4 years, Eisenia foetida for 4½ years and Lumbricus terrestris for 6 years.

Worms continue to grow once they reach sexual maturity but once at this stage there is a much slower increase in weight until the disappearance of the clitellum indicates the onset of old age or senescence. During this period there is a slow decline in weight until the death of the worm.

Q. How do earthworms move?

A. Earthworms have bristles or setae in groups around or under their body. The bristles, paired in groups on each segment, can be moved in and out to grip the ground or the walls of a burrow. Worms travel through underground tunnels or move about on the soil surface by using their bristles as anchors pushing themselves forward or backward using strong stretching and contracting muscles.

Q. What characteristics are used to identify earthworms?

A. The external body characters used in identifying different species of earthworms are: the segmental position of the clitellum on the body, body length, body shape (cylindrical or flattened), number of body segments, type and position of body bristles or setae, the description of the tongue-like lobe, the prostomium, projecting forward above the mouth, type of peristomium or first body segment, external position and morphology of genital apertures or opening and type of glandular swellings on the clitellum. The shape and the relationship of various internal organs are also used to identify some species of worms.

Q. What enemies do earthworms have?

A. Snakes, birds, moles, toads and even foxes are known to eat earthworms. Beetles, centipedes, leeches, slugs and flatworms also feed on earthworms. Some types of mites parasitize earthworm cocoons and the cluster fly (Pollenia rudis) parasitizes worms of the species Eisenia rosea.

Q. Can earthworms regenerate themselves?

A. Yes, but only the front or head end of the earthworm will survive and the amputated tail portion will die. This remaining front portion must also be long enough to contain the clitellum and at least 10 segments behind the clitellum. This makes up about half the length of the worm. The new posterior segments grown will be slightly smaller in diameter than the original segments and sometimes a bit lighter in color.

Q. How can you distinguish the head of an earthworm from the tail?

A. The head of the worm is always located on the end of the worm closest to the clitellum and has some differentiated structures if you can view with magnification. Even though worms can move both frontward and backward they tend to travel forward more. Place a worm on a rough piece of paper and observe which direction it travels. They usually extend their “head” first when crawling.

Q. How do earthworms obtain their food?

A. Earthworms possess very strong mouth muscles – they do not have teeth. Dew worms or nightcrawlers often surface at night to pull fallen leaves down into their burrow. When the leaf decomposes or softens a little they pull small bits off at a time to munch on. They also “swallow” soil as they burrow and extract nutrients from it.

Q. How big do earthworms get?

A. Size depends on the species of worm, it’s age, diet and environmental conditions like moisture, temperature and soil conditions. Lumbricus terrestris (Nightcrawler, Dew worm) is one of North America’s largest and ranges in size from 9-30 cm with a diameter of 6-10 mm. The largest L. terrestris we’ve collected was close to 30 cm long (stretched out), weighed 11.2 g and was collected in a no-till, soybean field in Ontario up near Georgian Bay, Ontario.

The largest tropical species (Glossoscolex and Megascolides) are up to 120 cm long and the largest in the world are some Australian forms which may reach 300 cm in length. Bimastos parvus (American bark worm) is quite small at less than 2 cm long.


Earthworm Worksheet

Name(s)_______________________________ Group_______ Date__________ Period_______

Earthworm Worksheet 


1. What is the name of the pumping organs of an earthworm?


2. Trace the parts of the digestive tract through which food passes.


3. Which parts of the earthworm serve as its brain?  How are these parts connected to the rest of the body?


4. Which of the parts of the worm’s body that you saw are included in the excretory system?


5. How can you find out whether an earthworm eats soil?


6. Among the earthworm’s structural adaptations are its setae. How do you think the earthworm’s setae make it well adapted to its habitat?


7. How is the earthworm’s digestive system adapted for extracting relatively small amounts of food from large amounts of ingested soil?


8. Your dissection of the earthworm did not go beyond segment 32. What will you observe if you dissect the remainder of the worm to its posterior end?


9. On a separate piece of paper, draw and label the parts of the earthworm you observed, and color code the systems. Use green for the reproductive system, yellow for the digestive system, blue for the excretory system, and red for the nervous system.


10. During mating, two earthworms exchange sperm. Fertilization is external, and cocoons are produced from which the young eventually emerge. Refer again to steps 5 and 11, where you located the earthworm’s reproductive organs. Use a reference to identify the role of each organ in the reproductive process of the earthworm. On a separate paper, summarize your findings.




All Materials © Cmassengale  

Phylum Echinodermata

  • All marine
  • Known as spiny-skinned animals
  • Endoskeleton known as the test is made of calcium plates or ossicles with protruding spines
  • Includes sea stars, brittle stars, sand dollars, sea urchins, & sea cucumbers
  • Undergo metamorphosis from bilateral, free-swimming larva to sessile or sedentary adult
  • Larval stage known as dipleurula or bipinnaria
  • Adults have pentaradial ( 5 part) symmetry
  • Lack segmentation or metamerism
  • Coelomate
  • Breathe through skin gills as adults
  • Capable of extensive regeneration

Bipinnaria Larva

  • Ventral (lower) surface called the oral surface & where mouth is located
  • Dorsal (upper) surface known as aboral surface & where anus is located
  • Have a nervous system but no head or brain in adults
  • No circulatory, respiratory, or excretory systems
  • Have a network of water-filled canals called the water vascular system to help move & feed
  • Tube feet on the underside of arms help in moving & feeding
  • One-way digestive system consists of mouth with oral spines, gut, & anus
  • Deuterostomes (blastopore becomes the anus)
  • Separate sexes
  • Reproduce sexually & asexually
  • Includes 5 classes:
    * Crinoidea – sea lilies & feather stars
    * Asteriodea – starfish
    * Ophiuroidea – basket stars & brittle stars
    * Echinoidea – sea urchins & sand dollars
    * Holothuroidea – sea cucumbers

Class Crinoidea

  • Sessile
  • Sea lilies & feather stars





  • Have a long stalk with branching arms that attach them to rocks & the ocean bottom
  • Can detach & move around
  • Mouth & anus on upper surface
  • May have 5 to 200 arms with sticky tube feet to help capture food (filter feeders) & take in oxygen
  • Common in areas with strong currents & usually nocturnal feeders

Class Asteroidea

  • Usually sedentary along shorelines
  • Starfish or sea stars
  • Come in a variety of colors
  • Prey on bivalve mollusks such as clams & oysters

Starfish Feeding on Clam

  • Have 5 arms that can be regenerated
  • Arms project from the central disk
  • Mouth on oral surface (underside)


Class Ophiuroidea

  • Largest class of echinoderms
  • Includes basket stars & brittle stars





  • Live on the ocean bottom beneath stones, in crevices, or in holes
  • Have long, narrow arms resembling a tangle of snakes
  • Arms readily break off & regenerate
  • Move quicker than starfish
  • Feed by raking in food with arms or trapping it with its tube feet

Class Echinoidea

  • Includes sea urchins & sand dollars





  • Internal organs enclosed by endoskeleton or test made of fused skeletal plates
  • Body shaped like a sphere (sea urchin) or a flattened disk (sand dollar)
  • Lack arms
  • Bodies covered with movable spines
  • Have a jawlike, crushing structure called Aristotle’s lantern to grind food
  • Use tube feet to move
  • Sea Urchins:
    * Spherical shape
    * Live on ocean bottom
    * Scrape algae to feed
    * Long, barbed spines make venom for protection
  • Sand Dollars:
    * Flattened body
    * Live in sand along coastlines
    * Shallow burrowers
    * Have short spines

Class Holothuroidea

  • Includes sea cucumber


  • Lack arms
  • Shaped like a pickle or cucumber
  • Live on ocean bottoms hiding in caves during the day 
  • Have a soft body with a tough, leathery outer skin
  • Five rows of tube feet run lengthwise on the aboral (top) surface of the body
  • Have a fringe of tentacles (modified tube feet) surrounding the mouth to sweep in food & water
  • Tentacles have sticky ends to collect plankton
  • Show bilateral symmetry
  • Can eject parts of their internal organs (evisceration) to scare predators; regenerate these structures in days

Structure & Function of Starfish
Body Plan

  • Range in size from 1 centimeter to 1 meter
  • Mouth located on oral surface (underside)
  • Have an endoskeleton made of calcium plates
  • Sharp, protective spines made of calcium plates called ossicles found under the skin on the aboral (top) surface


  • Have pedicellariae or tiny, forcep-like structures surrounding their spines to help clean the body surface

Water Vascular System

  • Network of canals creating hydrostatic pressure to help the starfish move


  • Water enters through sieve plate or madreporite on aboral surface into a short, straight stone canal
  • Stone canal connects to a circular canal around the mouth called the ring canal
  • Five radial canals extend down each arm & are connected to the ring canal
  • Radial canals carry water to hundreds of paired tube feet


  • Bulb-like sacs or ampulla on the upper end of each tube foot contract & create suction to help move, attach, or open bivalves
  • Rows of tube feet on oral surface (underside) are found in ambulcaral grooves under each arm

Tube Feet in Ambulcaral Grooves

Feeding & Digestion

  • Tube feet attach to bivalve mollusk shells & create suction to pull valves apart slightly
  • Starfish everts (turns inside out) its stomach through its mouth & inserts it into prey
  • Stomach secretes enzymes to partially digest bivalve then stomach withdrawn & digestion completed inside starfish

Other Body Systems

  • No circulatory, excretory, or respiratory systems
  • Coelomic fluid bathes organs & distributes food & oxygen
  • Gas exchange occurs through skin gills & diffusion into the tube feet
  • No head or brain
  • Have a nerve ring surrounding the mouth that branch into nerve cords down each arm
  • Eyespots on the tips of each arm detect light
  • Tube feet respond to touch


  • Separate sexes
  • Two gonads (ovaries or testes) in each arm produce eggs or sperm
  • Have external fertilization
  • Females produce up to 200,000,000 eggs per season
  • Fertilized eggs hatch into bipinnaria larva which settles to the bottom after 2 years & changes into adult
  • Asexually reproduce by regenerating arms

Crayfish Dissection


Crayfish Dissection
• Describe the appearance of various organs found in a crayfish.
• Name the organs that make up systems of the crayfish.


• safety goggles, gloves, magnifying glass, a lab apron, plastic zip lock bag preserved crayfish,  pen, dissecting tray, paper towels, scissors, forceps, dissecting needle, and dissecting pins.


In this lab, you will observe the external structures of a crayfish and dissect it to study its internal structures and systems.


Like all crustaceans, a crayfish has a fairly hard exoskeleton that covers its body. As shown in the diagram on the next page, its body is divided into two main parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The cephalothorax consists of the cephalic (or head) region and the thoracic region. The part of the exoskeleton that covers the cephalothorax is called the carapace. The abdomen is located behind the cephalothorax and consists of six clearly divided segments. The cephalothorax consists of 13 segments. Each segment of both the cephalothorax and the abdomen contains a pair of appendages. The head (or cephalic) region has five pairs of appendages. The antennules are organs of balance, touch, and taste. Long antennae are organs for touch, taste, and smell. The mandibles, or jaws, crush food by moving from side to side. Two pairs of maxillae hold solid food, tear it, and pass it to the mouth. The second pair of maxillae also helps to draw water over the gills. Of the eight pairs of appendages on the cephalothorax, the first three are maxillipeds, which hold food during eating. The chelipeds are the large claws that the crayfish uses for defense and to capture prey. Each of the four remaining segments contains a pair of walking legs. In the abdomen, the first five segments each have a pair of swimmerets, which create water currents and function in reproduction. The sixth segment contains a modified pair of uropods. In the middle of the uropods is a structure called the telson, which bears the anus. The uropod and telson together make up the tail fan. The crayfish moves backward by forcing water forward with its  tail fan.

Procedure Part 1—External Anatomy of a Crayfish

1. Put on safety goggles, gloves, and a lab apron.


2. Place a crayfish on its side in a dissection tray. Use the diagram below to locate the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The carapace, a shield of chitin, covers the dorsal surface of the cephalothorax. On the carapace, observe an indentation, the cervical groove, that extends across the midregion and separates the head and thoracic regions. On the thoracic region, locate the prominent suture or indentation on the cephalothorax that defines a central area separate from the sides. Note the individual segments of the abdomen.


What is the main difference between the cephalothorax and abdomen?


3. Turn the crayfish with its DORSAL side upward, and locate the rostrum, which is the pointed extension of the carapace at the head of the animal shown in the diagram above. Beneath the rostrum locate the two eyes. Notice that each eye is at the end of a stalk.

4. Locate the five pairs of appendages on the head region. First locate the antennules in the most anterior segment. Behind them observe the much longer pair of antennae.

Why is it useful to view the specimen on its Dorsal side for this part of your study?

5. Locate the mouth. Then observe the mandibles, or true jaws, behind the antennae. Now locate the two pairs of maxillae, which are the last appendages in the cephalic region.

Which appendages in the cephalic region are related to the eating of food?


6. On the thoracic portion of the cephalothorax, observe the three pointed maxillipeds.

How are the maxillipeds related to eating?


7. Next observe the largest prominent pair of appendages, the chelipeds, or claws. Behind the chelipeds locate the four pairs of walking legs, one pair on each segment.


8. Now use the walking legs to determine the sex of your specimen. Locate the base  segment of each pair of walking legs. The base segment is where the leg attaches to the body. Use a magnifying glass to study the inside surface of the base segment of the third pair of walking legs. If you observe a crescent-shaped slit, you have located a genital pore of a female. In a male, the sperm duct openings are on the base segment of the fourth pair of walking legs. Use a magnifying glass to observe the opening of a  genital pore.


Is your specimen a male or a female?

Exchange your specimen with a nearby classmate who has a crayfish of the opposite sex. Then study its genital pores.


9. On the abdomen, observe the six distinct segments. On each of the first five segments, observe a pair of swimmerets.

10. On the last abdominal segment, observe a pair of pointed appendages modified into a pair of uropods. In the middle of the uropods, locate the triangular-shaped telson.


11. Now turn the crayfish ventral side up. Observe the location of each pair of appendages from the ventral side.

From which view, dorsal or ventral, can you see the location of the appendages on the segments more clearly?

12. Remove all jointed appendages of the crayfish and attach them to the table on the crayfish worksheet.

If dissection is two day, complete steps 13 and 14 only!


13. Next you will study the internal anatomy of a crayfish. If you must store your specimen until the next lab period, cover it with a dampened paper towel. Then place the specimen on the tray in a plastic bag. Close the bag with a twist tie. Write your name on the bag with a felt-tip marking pen, and give your specimen to your teacher.


14. Clean up your work area and wash your hands before leaving the lab.


Part 2—Internal Anatomy of a Crayfish

15. Put on a lab apron, gloves, and safety goggles.


16. Using one hand to hold the crayfish dorsal side up in the dissecting tray, use scissors to carefully cut through the back of the carapace along dissection cut line 1,  as shown in the diagram below. Cut along the indentations that separate the thoracic portion of the carapace into three regions. Start the cut at the posterior edges of the carapace, and extend it along both sides in the cephalic region.



17. Use forceps to carefully lift away the carapace. Be careful not to pull the carapace away too quickly. Such action would disturb or tear the underlying structures.

18. Place the specimen on its side, with the head facing left, as shown in the diagram below. Using scissors, start cutting at the base of cut line 1. Cut along the side of the crayfish, as illustrated by cut line 2. Extend the cut line forward toward the rostrum (at the top of the head).


19. Use forceps to carefully lift away the remaining parts of the carapace, exposing the underlying gills and other organs.


20. Use the diagram below to locate and identify the organs of the digestive system. Locate the maxillae that pass the pieces of food into the mouth. The food travels down the short esophagus into the stomach. Locate the digestive gland, which produces digestive substances and from which the absorption of nutrients occurs. Undigested material passes into the intestine. Observe that the intestine is attached to the lobed stomach. The undigested material is eliminated from the anus.

Rows of chitinous teeth line the stomach. Predict their function.


21. Use the diagram below to locate and identify the organs of the respiratory system. Locate the gills, which are featherlike structures found underneath the carapace and attached to the chelipeds and walking legs. A constant flow of blood to the gills releases carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen.

The feathery nature of the gills gives them a very large surface area. Why is this important?


22. Use the diagram of the internal anatomy of the crayfish to locate and identify the organs of the circulatory system. Locate the dorsal tubular heart and several arteries. The crayfish has an open circulatory system in which the blood flows from arteries into sinuses, or spaces, in tissues. The blood flows over the gills before returning to the heart.


23. Use the same diagram to locate and identify the organs of the nervous system. Find the ventral nerve cord. Locate a ganglion, one of the enlargements of the ventral nerve cord. Locate the dorsal brain, which is located just behind the compound eyes. Note the two large nerves that lead from the brain, around the esophagus, and join the ventral nerve cord.

Many nerves leave from each ganglion. Where do you think these nerves go?


24. Use the same diagram to locate and identify the organs of the excretory system. The blood carries cellular wastes to the disk-like green glands. Locate these organs just in front of the stomach. The green glands excrete waste through pores at the base of each antenna.

What organs in your body carry out the same function as the green glands?



25. Use the diagram once again to locate and identify the organs of the reproductive system. The animal shown in the diagram is a male crayfish. If your specimen is a male, locate the testis. The testis is the long, white organ under the heart and a bit forward. The sperm ducts that carry sperm from the testis open at the fifth walking leg. If your specimen is a female, locate the bi-lobed ovary. It is in the same relative position as the testis, but the ovary appears as a large, reddish mass under the heart. Then locate the short oviducts that extend from near the center of each side of the ovary and open at the third walking leg. Exchange your specimen with a nearby classmate who has a crayfish of the opposite sex. Then study its reproductive system.

25. Dispose of your materials according to the directions from your teacher.


26. Clean up your work area and wash your hands before leaving lab.

Crayfish WorksheetCrayfish Appendage Table


Crayfish Worksheet

Name(s)__________________________________ Group______ Date ________ Period_____

Crayfish Dissection Worksheet

1. What structures are used for capturing prey and securing and eating food?



2. How are the antennae, chelipeds, other walking legs, and swimmerets related?


3. What are the main structures you could have observed when you removed the exoskeleton of the abdomen and tell the function of each?





4. Is the crayfish most vulnerable to its enemies from the dorsal or ventral side? Why?


5. The crayfish usually molts, or sheds its exoskeleton, twice a year. Why does the crayfish “hide” after it molts?



6. Name the appendages found on the head of a crayfish & tell the function of each.






7. Of the systems studied, which two are most unlike the related human system? Why?



8. Although the crayfish has an inflexible cephalothorax, the crayfish is classified as a segmented animal. Why?



9. Name the appendages found on the thorax of the crayfish and tell the function of each.




10. Name the appendages on the abdomen of the thorax and tell the function of each.





11. Label the drawing of the crayfish.