With thousands of earthworm species out there, picking worm breeds for farming could seem challenging.
However, the reality is a lot less overwhelming. If you know what you’re looking for, you can narrow down the list to only a handful of options suitable for vermiculture.
Generally speaking, epigeic worms like the red wigglers, blues, and African nightcrawlers work best for vermicomposting setups. However, some epi-endogeic worms can be farmed, too.
Why are epigeic breeds better, and what are your top options? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.
Epigeic vs. Endogeic vs. Anecic: Picking the Best Worm Type
To the untrained eye, all earthworms might look the same: thin, wiggly, and segmented.
Yet, experts tell us a different story: soil-dwelling earthworms can be either epigeic, endogeic, or anecic.
There are differences in size, pigmentation, and muscle development, but we don’t need to dig deep into all that. For your composting needs, epigeic is the way to go.
Well, it’s in the name: “epi” means top, and “geic” refers to the earth. So they spend their time chilling at the surface rather than in permanent burrows, which makes them ideal for a worm bin.
But the dwelling preference isn’t the only reason. Epigeic worms thrive on organic matter, so they handle composting materials well.
Meanwhile, endogeic worms burrow down to nearly 8 inches into the topsoil.
The anecic worms? Those can burrow up to 9.8 feet into the subsoil!
While that’s impressive, it doesn’t count as a bonus point since the soil isn’t even a requirement for vermicomposting—organic matter is both the substrate and the food.
Top Worm Breeds for Farming
By now, you know that the best farming worms are epigeic, but what are your options? While the most common species is the red wiggler, there are a few more to consider.
Before you commit to one species, let’s take a closer look at the top contenders:
1. Eisenia fetida – Red Wiggler Worm
Out of all the worms on the list, the red wiggler easily takes the lion’s share—that’s 80–90% of all vermicompost farms out there!
Of course, you might know it as the brandling, California red, or manure worm. Either way, it’s highly forgiving, breeds quickly, and has quite an appetite.
According to the NYC Compost Project, Eisenia fetida can eat half its body weight daily.
As for the quick breeding merit, it’ll come in handy if you run a worm farm somewhere with harsh winters. While the adult worms might freeze and die, their eggs won’t.
2. Lumbricus rubellus – Leaf Worm
We’ve already covered that epigeic worms work best for farms, but the Lumbricus rubellus makes things a bit confusing.
It can feed both on the surface and in the topsoil layers, but its burrows aren’t permanent like typical endogeic worms. That’s why it’s better categorized as epi-endogeic.
The classification shouldn’t matter much since L. rubellus still does a decent job as a composting worm. That said, it doesn’t eat up as much organic matter as E. fetida, according to the smart gardening fact sheet by LA County Public Works.
If left in the soil directly, these worms will also help in aerating the soil.
Plus, these worms make great bait and are quite popular with fishermen. So, if you’d like to sell some of your worm farm population, you won’t have to limit yourself to gardeners.
3. Perionyx excavatus – Blue Worm
People often get the red wigglers and the Indian blue worm (Perionyx excavatus) mixed up. While they’re rather similar-looking, the latter is usually thinner.
Don’t let that slim body fool you, though. The P. excavatus is both a prolific breeder and a quick eater.
The catch here is that they’re picky about their environment. Mess up the farming conditions, and they’ll try to escape over and over again.
To reduce the odds of this happening, it’s better to pick the blue worms for your vermiculture setup only if you live somewhere warm.
All in all, the blue worm isn’t a top recommendation for beginner farmers. Red wigglers are just more forgiving when it comes to temperature ranges.
4. Eudrilus eugenia – African Nightcrawler
The blue worm isn’t the only summer-loving species on the list; the African nightcrawler (sometimes called the ANC) also thrives in warm temperatures.
This is good news for folks in hotter regions. However, if the temperature often drops below 59°F, your worm farm will lose a lot of its productivity.
Just like their blue counterparts, the ANCs might “crawl” out on you if they don’t like the conditions.
We’re not talking about a couple of worms escaping, either. Losing the entire bin’s population in under a day isn’t unheard of!
Additionally, they don’t eat much compared to other worms on the list.
Still, the ANC isn’t without its merit. What it lacks in temperature tolerance, it makes up for in versatility.
Sure, these worms produce vermicompost just fine, but they also do well in applications like:
- Biomass stock feed (they’re chunky and protein-rich!)
- Fishing bait cultures
5. Eisenia andrei – Red Worm
Speaking of fishing bait, the Eisenia andrei is also a good contender. The fish seem to be attracted to the species’ coelomic fluid, at least according to LA County Public Works’ factsheet.
You probably noticed that this one shares a genus with the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida). As it happens, it also has a fast reproduction rate, a short lifespan, and a wide-range temperature tolerance in common with the red wiggler.
The main difference that you’ll spot right away is the color.
Usually, the E. andrei worm is more uniformly pigmented. Meanwhile, the E. fetida flaunts stripe-like patterns.
Ultimately, the best pick for your worm farm depends on the average temperature in your location and the kind of applications you have in mind.
In most cases, the Eisenia fetida or the red wiggler is the most obvious choice, thanks to its tolerance and reproductive habits.
For worm farmers in warm regions, blues and ANCs can be a good fit.