I had an interesting question today. A friend of mine asked where do baby worms come from. It’s actually a great question because red wigglers are both male and female, they’re hermaphrodites. However, they are not asexual. There are worms that can produce offspring by themselves, but not our red wigglers! (Educational tip: The development of an egg without the process of fertilization is called parthenogenesis.) Our worms need a partner to reproduce. Here’s what actually happens:
1) Two months after birth a red wiggler is ready to breed. It grows a bulbous gland called the clitellum about one-third down it’s body and it’s here that the worm needs to join with another worm. The joining takes around three hours and it’s very important not to disturb them. How do they keep from slipping off each other? Good question, they are slippery little things. Well, they use their bristles (remember from yesterday’s post?) to hang on tight!
2) After the joining is over and they enjoy a candlelight dinner (just kidding), they begin to form a mucus ring around themselves for the fluids they exchanged. Soon they start to move/wiggle out the ring over their heads (kind of like pulling a sweater over your head), when this happens, the fluids from their joining are caught by the ring and deposited. Of course, this is the non-scientific, quick version of the process.
3) When the ring is pulling over their heads, it gets harder and as it falls away from the worm it becomes an oval shaped, light yellow cocoon! After a few weeks, the cocoon gets darker, reddish as the little hatchlings form. Fun fact: red wigglers can hatch from one to twenty hatchlings. Twenty babies!
Hatchlings take around two to three weeks before they are ready to emerge from their cocoons. They are super teeny but here is an awesome video of one being born: http://youtu.be/huWOOOZY6RY. See the pen tip? Now you know how little they are at birth.
Note: Worms need a few things to mate: stability (it can take weeks after moving to a new home before they are comfortable enough to mate), food and a moist bed, warmth, and calcium.