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  • New Zealand’s common earthworms occupy different niches in the soil profile. To use this interactive, move your mouse or finger over any of the labelled boxes and select to obtain more information.

    Common New Zealand earthworms – interactive.

    Earthworms occupy different niches within the soil profile. Click on the labels to find out where common New Zealand earthworm species tend to live and read about their physical characteristics and life processes.

    This information is also available as a slide show: Common New Zealand earthworms.

    Background images: Soil profile courtesy of Anne Wecking; compost bin image Bouvier Sandrine/123RF Ltd.

    Transcript

    Bark worm

    The bark worm is a litter-dwelling earthworm. It is short, bright red and has faint yellow colouring near the tip of its tail. The bark worm produces around 40–100 cocoons (egg cases) per year. This is a lot compared to some other earthworms. Bark worms live close to the soil surface so their young have a reduced chance of survival due to predation, temperature changes or drought.

    Scientific name: Dendrodrilus rubidus
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: epigeic
    Length: 20–100 mm
    Image: Ross Gray

    Tiger worm

    The tiger worm gets its name from its red and yellow striped body. It is most commonly found in compost piles, living close to the surface of the soil. Tiger worms will not live for long if transplanted into normal soil. Tiger worms are cultivated and sold as compost worms. They reproduce easily provided they have plenty of food.

    Scientific name: Eisenia fetida
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: epigeic
    Length: 30–130 mm

    Image: Phil Bendle

    Dung worm

    The dung worm is a reddish brown colour with a purple sheen. It is iridescent in bright light and has a red saddle. It is active when disturbed. The dung worm lives in the upper 5 cm of soil but is also found in cow pats or in horse manure. Dung worms are very common in New Zealand.

    Scientific name: Lumbricus rubellus
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: epigeic
    Length: 25–150 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Snake worm

    The snake worm gets its name from its long, slender body and its habit of writhing like a snake when it is disturbed. The snake worm is greenish brown in colour and lives at or near the soil surface.

    Scientific name: Amynthas corticus
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: epigeic
    Length: 70–180 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Grey worm

    The grey worm is the most common earthworm in New Zealand. It is grey with a dark pink head. It ingests (eats) large amounts of soil and the organic matter in it. Grey worms live in the top 20–30 cm of soil. They are common in pastures throughout the country.

    Scientific name: Aporrectodea caliginosa
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: endogeic
    Length: 40–100 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Yellow tail worm

    The yellow tail worm is pale grey in colour. It has a distinctive yellow tip at the end of its tail. The yellow tail earthworm is endogeic, living within the top 20–30 cm of soil. It is widespread throughout New Zealand but less common than the grey worm or dung worm.

    Scientific name: Octolasion cyaneum
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: endogeic
    Length: 65–180 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Pink worm

    The pink worm is small. It has a pale pink head and tail. Its clitellum – the glandular ring or saddle near the head – is dark, pinkish orange. The pink worm lives in the top 20–30 cm depth of soil. Like other endogeic species, these earthworms burrow through the soil, creating channels for air, water and plant roots. It eats plant matter found in the soil.

    Scientific name: Aporrectodea rosea
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: endogeic
    Length: 25–85 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Southern worm

    The southern worm is dark greyish brown in colour. It lives in the top 20–30 cm of soil. It ingests (swallows) soil as it burrows, eating the organic matter. The soil passes through the earthworm’s digestive system. The digestion process can change soil nutrients into a form more accessible to plants.

    Scientific name: Aporrectodea trapezoides
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: endogeic
    Length: 40–90 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Green worm

    The green worm is greenish brown in colour. The colouration works as camouflage, helping to protect the earthworm from predators. The green worm coils stiffly when disturbed.

    Scientific name: Allolobophora chlorotica
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: endogeic
    Length: 40–70 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Blackhead worm

    The blackhead worm is a large earthworm. It is dark greyish brown in colour with a distinctive black head. Blackhead worms are deep burrowers. Their burrows can extend as deep as 3 metres. They look for food on the soil surface and then drag it down into their burrows. They tend to make permanent or semi-permanent burrows.

    Scientific name: Aporrectodea longa
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: anecic
    Length: 90–120 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Octochaetus multiporus

    O. multiporus is native to New Zealand. It is a large earthworm, growing up to 30 cm in length and 1 cm in diameter. It is pale in colour with a purple streak that runs along the top of its body. O. multiporus lives in the subsoil at depths of 3–5 metres. It makes extensive, permanent burrows. O. multiporus is bioluminescent. When disturbed, it squirts out a bright yellow-orange fluid that glows in the dark. Māori traditionally used O. multiporus as baits and fishing lures.

    Scientific name: Octochaetus multiporus
    Status: native
    Soil niche: anecic
    Length: up to 300 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Nightcrawler

    The nightcrawler is a very large earthworm. It is reddish brown with a purple sheen and appears iridescent in bright light. It is a deep-burrowing earthworm. Nightcrawlers feed on the soil surface. They pull leaves and other organic materials down into their burrows. Nightcrawlers are useful in orchards, where they remove leaves that fall to the ground.

    Scientific name: Lumbricus terrestris
    Status: introduced
    Soil niche: anecic
    Length: 90–300 mm

    Image: Ross Gray

    Rights: University of Waikato Published 9 August 2018 Size: 970 KB Referencing Hub media
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