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Why Did the Worm Cross the Road?

Not the answer you are expecting.

Lucky folks have seen mobs of worms on the sidewalk after it rains. It’s crazy how many worms are all over the parking lots and in the street. The classic explanation is that rain flooded their worm hole and they had to crawl out to avoid drowning. I argue that the flooding story is just a fable, it makes sense and sounds right, right? I say, ‘Wrong’. Try my explanation instead, see if it makes more sense.

My goldfish tank shows that they don’t mind a flood of water. I dropped in a few worms as a snack, but some lucky red wigglers avoided getting eaten by my fish. They sank to the bottom and burrowed into the gravel. I found them months later while vacuuming the tank. Clearly the water holds enough oxygen for fish and worms. Nobody was drowning.

Instead, I say, those crawling worms are on a mission. Think about their usual life in a hole. It gets lonely down there. And when they come to the surface to mate, they only find their nearest neighbors (again). But evolution and selfish genetics want our worm heroes to spread their seed as widely as possible.

Unfortunately, the dry ground limits their travel because the dry surface would kill them. They only get to do the very horizontal tango with that next-door neighbor (again) … except when it rains. In the rain, the intrepid worms use the wet ground and puddles to take a daring dash to get as far away from home as they can. They leave the safety of their hole in the ground because this is their chance to find a new worm to mate with.

Next time you see a stampede of worms, you will know why. Spread the word. Those little monsters crawl across the dangerous pavement after it rains because they are looking for love.

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Rats Are Worm Murderers

I get asked often if my red wigglers can go safely into a raised bed garden or an outside compost pile. I have always explained that these are compost worms and not Earthworms. They don’t dig like earthworms do. Earthworms dig a hole (called a burrow) and anchor their tail deep underground. Earthworms pull leaves and other edibles into their burrow to eat in peace. Red wigglers live in leaf litter and the soft, organic layer on top of the soil. These little guys slither along in the rotting top layer to eat the microbes growing there.

If you go digging through piles of leafy debris, you will not find crowds of worms and I can tell you why. My worm bins are packed with living, growing, and multiplying worms. There can easily be 2000 and more worms in the two square feet of bedding. So ‘Where do the outside worms go?’ you ask. I can tell you for certain now. Outside and exposed is not their happy place.

It is not that the food for a crowd of worms is limited in a well mulched garden or a compost pile. I have pulled buckets of compost into my garage for potting up seedlings. After a few weeks, worms magically appear. So, if they are in the compost why don’t we find those same worms in the compost pile? What is the magic of being indoors?

A few nights ago, I was working on two bins in my garage. Both had plenty of worms and lids. I took the lid off one to do some feeding and forgot to put that lid back on. The other, identical bin kept its lid on. That was the only difference. Both were freshly fed, stirred, and full of worms, just one was left open to the world. It was a fatal mistake.

Overnight a rat got into my garage. Apparently, he found the open worm bin because it was plowed and cleaned out. Mr. Rat clearly had a feast as all my worms were no longer there. All that was left was half finished worm bedding. Luckily, the other bin was safely closed. There was no rat visit to that closed bin. The worms are still happy and plentiful in that covered bin.

The same outrage must be going on every night out in my unprotected compost pile and stacks of leaves. The worms try to multiply, but the rats and other predators are eating them up. Who knew it was such a deadly jungle in the back yard? The worms do not live underground and are sadly, constantly being eaten out in the open. My new, stronger answer is the red wigglers need protection. Keep them in a bin with strong walls and a secure lid. They are not safe or happy in the wild. They do not do well in a raised bed or outside compost pile. Red wigglers want a protected home where rats, and mice, and who knows what other creatures cannot make them into a meal.