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What to feed Earthworms

This is a discussion on What to feed Earthworms within the Earthworms, Nightcrawlers, etc forums, part of the Food: Live, Frozen, Freeze-Dried, Pellets, etc category; I scanned the literature for any information I could find on the impact of feeding earthworms particular diets. My objective ...

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Old 2nd February 2015   #1 (permalink)
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Default What to feed Earthworms

I scanned the literature for any information I could find on the impact of feeding earthworms particular diets. My objective here was to take a broad view of how this might impact earthworms as a general rule of thumb. I've also included some information from reptile and amphibian enthusiats, worm feed producers, and various other sources. Each source is cited so that one can weigh its credibility on his or her own. I've used the imaginary internet citation format (IIC) for citation style.

First, I took a look at commercially available diets. Mazuri Earthworm Chow contains 12% protien (minimum), 14.5% fiber (maximum), and 2.5 fat (minimum) (1). The top five ingrediants are ground corn, ground soybean hulls, wheat millings, and dehydrated alfalfa meal. McGeary Organic Egg Layer Mash comes in at 16% protien (minimum), 2.5 % fat (minimum), and 4% fiber (maximum) (2). The top ingrediants are Corn, Soybean Meal, Wheat, Wheat Middlings, and Diaculcium Phosphate. Wormman's WormFarm notes a 20% productivity gain when using egg laying mash as opposed to kitchen scraps (3). Wormman also states that corn and wheat products produce acidity when mixed into the soil (4). Yet the top ingrediant in both egg laying mash and the earthworm chow are corn.Iams Proactive Health Adult Lamb Meal & Rice has 22% protient (minimum), 12% fat (minimum), and 5% fiber (minimum) (5). The top ingrediants are Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Barley, and Ground Whole Grain Sorghum. It would appear that dog food provides considerably more protien and fat than commercial earthworm show. Both egg layer mash and dog food contain considerably less fiber. The Indiana Axolotl colony maintained multiple generations of Axolotls on moistened salmon pellets (6). Rangen SOFT MOIST DIET contains 44% protien, 18% fat, and 5% fiber (7). It seems reasonable that whether or not a higher protien and fat diet is beneficial for earthworms, the gutload of any undigested food being of higher protien and fat would not seem to directly pose any issue for salamanders. However, Ivan Alfonso, DVM, notes that in chameleons fed crickets gut loaded only with high protien sources such as cat and dog food, gout can develop. Fish based foods are often very high in protien.

Earthworms have also been raised on diets consisting of organic materials. Knor raised Canadian Nightcrawlers for 28 days on alfalfa leaves, soybean leaves, or corn leaves (9). The worms put on the most weight gain when fed soybean or alfalfa leaves, with corn leaves producing less weight gain per worm. Green Iguanas are often fed alfalfa because it adds protien from a non-animal source (10). Alfalfa can be purchased in small bales and ground with a coffee grinder. Many rabbit pellets are based on alfalfa but typically contain more vitamin A than commercial reptile diets. For example, Kaytee Supreme Daily Blend Rabbit Pellets contains 500 times more Vitamin A per pound than does Exoterra Iguana Juvenile soft pellets ( 11 & 12). Sogbesan, Ugwumba, Madu, Eze, & Isa fed earthworms poultry dung and rasied them in either an agro-allied substrate substrate (fermented for four weeks, dried, and pulverized) or a moist loamy-sandy soil substrate. The worms raised in the agro-allied substrate substrate weighed slightly less initially but after 84 days weighed 25% more than those raised in a pure soil substrate. Earthworms have been found to produce significantly more coccoons when fed decaying animal material than fresh plant material, and fields spread with manure produce significantly more earthworms per acre than similar fields that are not enhanced with dung (14, p. 150). Additionally, food particle size has been shown to produce significant effects. Earthworms fed barley fragments of .2mm in size gained twice as much weight over 150 days as earhtworms whose fragments ranged from .2mm to 1mm in size (14, p. 150). It's also worth noting that a study in Belguim revealed that earthworm biomass was dimished under Oak trees, possibly because of acidification and poor quality of the oak litter (14, p. 151).

Finally, the practiciality of feeding earthworms raised on a very small scale must be considered. Dog, cat, and fish foods contain large amounts of protien and it's possible those protien levels may be higher than earthworms need given that commercial earthworm diets have dropped far below those values. Egg layer mash often contains salts and sometimes diatomaceous earth both of which seem unnecessary additives. Alfalfa has been shown to provide suitable earthworm growth and contains no animal protiens. However, it is still higher in protien than commercial earthworm chow at 15-20% (16). Alfalfa also has a high calcium to phosphorous ratio (16). A quick search of alfalfa bales shows even in small quantities it is not overly expensive with 24 ounces going for 5$ and it could certainly be obtained for much less by purchasing larger quantities. Vegetable scraps from the kitchen can be chopped into 1/12" of an inch or smaller chunks which should increase their value as a food item. Earthworm chow can be ordered from Mazuri for 34$/50Lbs plus shipping but it may be worth checking the price a local retailer can get for you to avoid shipping fees. I believe it should only be stored for about 1 year, though, and that's assuming you get a fresh bag. It may be worth asking about the Use By date if purchasing a large bag online. Earthworm chow, unless ordered in large bags, is often repackaged by various individuals and occasionally I've seen a vendor add additional materials to the mix.

After completing my research on the subject, I plan to launch my test diet with as many vegetable scraps as I can save and run through the food processor, ground whole grains, and (in limited amounts) ground fish pellets and commercial cricket chow. I may experiment with dried and ground vegetables, too.


1. Earthworm Chow
2. Organic Layer Mash - McGeary Organics, Inc.
3. Raise and Sell European Night Crawlers
4. pH of Your Worm Bed
5. Iams® ProActive Health
6. Guide to Axolotl Husbandry
7. Rangen - Page: 11 of 16
8. JSTOR: An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie
9. https://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/handle/handle/184557
10. Feeding Iguanas
11. http://usa.hagen.com/Reptile/Nutrition/Extruded/PT3233
12. Kaytee Supreme Daily Blend Rabbit Pellets at PETCO
13. Culture and Utilization of Earthworm as Animal Protein Supplement in the Diet of <I>Heterobranchus longifilis</I> Fingerlings
14. Biology and Ecology of Earthworms - Clive A. Edwards, P.J. Bohlen - Google Books
15. Gout
16. HAY ~ NUTRITIONAL VALUE CHART | bunniesinneed.net



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