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What Makes Worm Cocoons Hatch?

Red Worm Cocoons

A little while ago one of our readers, Mario, sent me an email asking how he could get some Red Worm cocoons to hatch. I suggested adding them to some moistened bedding (shredded cardboard, newsprint etc), and then adding a small amount of food waste (I suggested an apple core, I believe). Well, as it turns out, Mario did indeed follow my advice and – long story short – ended up with lots of little wigglers in his mini bin.

This got me thinking…(uh oh! haha)

I’ve always been curious about the factors leading to the hatching of worm cocoons – specifically those of composting species, so the results of Mario’s little experiment have provided me with more than enough inspiration to finally start testing things out for myself (thanks, Mario!).

One thing I’ve noticed in my own systems is that periods of cold, and then warming seems to really increase hatching rates – a prime example of course would be in the spring time, when loads of baby worms start appearing in outdoor beds. I have also noticed this when bringing materials inside late in the fall (there seems to be an abundance of tiny worms in the material not too long after it warms up).

All of this kind of makes sense when you think about it. Red Worms tend to breed a lot as temperatures drop, so presumably the number of cocoons would be increasing at this time. In unprotected habitats, a fair number (if not all) of adults would likely die during the winter, so all these cocoons would be important in terms of the overall survival of the population.

Apart from temperature, I am also curious about moisture content and food/habitat. Will the worms hatch out more readily in cardboard or a mix of cardboard and food waste? If the results of my “50 Cocoon Challenge” (link will take you to listing of related posts) experiments are any indication, I have a sneaking suspicion that I know the answer to that one.

Thankfully, I happen to have access to loads of Red Worm cocoons at the moment, so I should be able to test out a LOT of different scenarios. If you have any ideas/suggestions, be sure to add a comment!

I will of course write about this again once I have my first test(s) up and running.
Stay tuned!
8)

Written by Bentley on May 11th, 2010 with 28 comments.
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28 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Anna
#1. May 11th, 2010, at 2:40 PM.

Is it known how permeable the cocoons are? I can see how the temperature and moisture fluctuations could impact the hatching but am curious about the food matter. Would the cocoon have to be actually touching the food for this to impact hatch rates?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Anna
#2. May 11th, 2010, at 3:01 PM.

Yikes–I just read my last post. Sorry to have pummeled you with questions. In case you can’t tell, I think you know everything :).

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#3. May 11th, 2010, at 3:20 PM.

Pummeled me with questions?? I only see two, Anna!
:lol:
Great questions at that!
I don’t know how permeable they are, but I do suspect that they are receptive to chemical cues (whether this indicates permeability or some sort of chemical binding on the surface I couldn’t even guess). I don’t think they will need to be in contact with the food, but that sounds like yet another interesting thing to test out.
Thanks for adding fuel to the fire (in a good way).
8)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Chuck Haynes
#4. May 11th, 2010, at 10:18 PM.

About 3 weeks ago I pulled some “finished” compost out of the bottom of one of my bins. There were only a few worms in it but it was wetter than I like so I put in in a 20 gallon container and set it in my garage thinking it might dry some. Well, immediately after that the temperature in Central Oregon dropped to 20 degrees below normal. That is lows in the mid to high 20′sF and highs in the 40″s. I forgot about the castings until our first nice day this weekend, so I pulled them out to use in planting some things in my garden. I couldn’t believe it, there we thousands of little worms all through the stuff. So many I didn’t think I could separate them so I just split the stuff and started 2 new bins with it. It had to be the temperature because there was no food in the bin.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Mike Green
#5. May 11th, 2010, at 10:18 PM.

“All of this kind of makes sense when you think about it. Red Worms tend to breed a lot as temperatures drop, so presumably the number of cocoons would be increasing at this time. “

Your post got me thinking Bentley. It’s a little off topic, but has anyone experimented with chilling worm bins to speed reproduction? wonder what temp is actually optimal. Do you think its a drop in temp that triggers the breeding increase or a threshold temp?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Michael
#6. May 11th, 2010, at 11:33 PM.

I would think that the cardboard and food waste would generate heat sufficient to hatch the eggs out quicker than using just cardboard.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Paul
#7. May 12th, 2010, at 2:59 AM.

Hey Bentley, hate to post this here, but I’m not sure if your ‘contact us’ page is working right. I sent you a few emails through it with no reply for more than a week. Just wondering if you got em.

Thanks
Paul

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com LARRY D.
#8. May 12th, 2010, at 1:49 PM.

I was wondering how long they can just kind of hang out in their cocoons,because the other day i was watching a worm birth and when i disturbed the cocoon,the worm threw it in reverse and went back inside.I watched it for a while and never saw him come back out .I couldn’t believe it.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Paul
#9. May 13th, 2010, at 1:49 AM.

I saw the same thing a few weeks ago. That’s a great question. I have a small container in my main bin that I collected a small quantity of cocoons in to watch them mature. Some of them are at least 3 weeks old and are finally turning dark. You can see the babies blood pumping through the cocoons, that is cool to watch. Anyone else seen that? I thought I was loosing my mind but have seen it quite a few times now.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#10. May 13th, 2010, at 2:50 PM.

CHUCK – Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing that!
————————–
MIKE – Interesting idea. According to “Biology and Ecology of Earthworms” (Edwards and Bohlen), the optimal temp for Red Worm reproduction is 15C (59F), while the optimal temp for growth is 25C (77F).
I’ve also heard of people drying out beds to stimulate reproduction (or at least cocoon laying) – also makes sense since this would help ensure success of future generations when habitat is going to dry out and kill off the worms.
—————————
Michael – You raise a good point. So many variables to consider! Guess I’ll need to compare temps in these systems to make sure they are not too far off from one another.
—————————-
PAUL – That is strange. I seem to be receiving emails ok, and am almost caught up with my replies. Feel free to email me at : bentleyc@gmail.com
—————————–
LARRY – Good question. I suspect that the one you were watching would have likely come out once you left it alone, but who knows.
——————————
PAUL – That is cool. You must have good eyes!
8)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Paul
#11. May 14th, 2010, at 12:53 AM.

It’s very hard to see. I think it’s the central vein that runs along the worms body that shows through. It appears then disappears rhythmically, so I assume that’s a heartbeat. I would think you’d see it easily with a mature cocoon and a magnifying glass. It was a whole week later that that particular cocoon was vacated.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com mike
#12. May 14th, 2010, at 12:54 AM.

I read that redworms take 28-30 days to mature with a lifecyle of 45-51 days. Sooo how often and how many cocoons will they lay in an optimum environment?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com greg hughes
#13. May 16th, 2010, at 1:52 PM.

hi bentley this is not a comment but just a ? about worms eggs i had an older man told me that if i touch the eggs with my bear hands that the eggs will not hatch he said that the worm has to come and rub there body over the egg

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Mario
#14. May 18th, 2010, at 1:40 AM.

Hi everybody!!! Thank you Bentley for Posting the Idea. I started out with 40 cocoons on April 1st, left them with only newspaper for bedding, in a round plastic bin thats about 6 inches from the top to probably 3 inches on the bottom, and about 4 inches tall. I asked Bentley about the bin setup so the cocoons would hatch faster, as you all know he came with the idea of using an apple core. I put in a small piece of the apple cor and addem some of the cocoons directly on the apple core, well, about 90% of the cocoon where yellow, like fresh cocoons when I started, left it like 10 days and they where still yellowish. After adding the apple coir in 2 weeks there were like more then 12 little born ones, and today I was checking the mega mini bin, and I already have 6 red wigglers, there already red in color, and the others are following, I also have all the cocoon, very dark brown and today I saw a few new born ones. Very important to keep the bin moist, by the way also had many little white things (the ones that break down the material) on the apple core, I thing its because no worms where eating it. But everything is going well, can even see many castings. I added some banana peels from another bin, thats haw I got to see the red wigglers united eating the banana peel. Forgot to say, had to take out the apple core after a few weeks, was getting loaded with does white little creatures.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Lee In Iowa
#15. May 18th, 2010, at 2:14 AM.

Okay, so I’m not adding to the hatching part here, but have noticed some things about egg-laying that are interesting (to me, at least). First off, when I use the black plastic layer with a grid of holes in it to separate my worms from finished vermicompost (new bin full of goodies on the bottom, layer of pin=holed plastic, dumb finished batch full of worms on top), well…the worms go south, leaving the vermicompost, but first they lay a ton of eggs! My idea is that the grown-ups are taking a chance, going off to a new environment, but they need to be sure their colony (or species) survives, so they lay eggs in the old, known-to-be-safe environment before they go.

Secondly, I’ve noticed a marked tendency to lay clutches of eggs in “safe” places, sheltered but with tiny edibles nearby. I often mix in leaves from my back yard, where there’s a hickory tree. (If you’ve been afraid to add nutshells, hickory shells work fine; they soften up completely in the worm bin.) Anyhow, sure as shootin’, when I’m sifting through the finished compost to save the last of the worms in it, any time I pick up a nutshell, I can count on finding eggs or tiny, tiny baby worms inside. (These are quarter-pieces, broken open by squirrels.)

Oh, and has anyone else noticed that the worms will eat darn near anything–except seeds?! Is it some sort of professional courtesy, or do seeds have a coating with something that signals the worms not to eat it? I don’t know, but my vermicompost is all the time sprouting tomatoes and squash!

So that’s what I know, in Iowa….

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Lee In Iowa
#16. May 18th, 2010, at 2:16 AM.

Okay, so I’m not adding to the hatching part here, but have noticed some things about egg-laying that are interesting (to me, at least). First off, when I use the black plastic layer with a grid of holes in it to separate my worms from finished vermicompost (new bin full of goodies on the bottom, layer of pin=holed plastic, dump finished batch full of worms on top), well…the worms go south, leaving the vermicompost, but first they lay a ton of eggs! My idea is that the grown-ups are taking a chance, going off to a new environment, but they need to be sure their colony (or species) survives, so they lay eggs in the old, known-to-be-safe environment before they go.

Secondly, I’ve noticed a marked tendency to lay clutches of eggs in “safe” places, sheltered but with tiny edibles nearby. I often mix in leaves from my back yard, where there’s a hickory tree. (If you’ve been afraid to add nutshells, hickory shells work fine; they soften up completely in the worm bin.) Anyhow, sure as shootin’, when I’m sifting through the finished compost to save the last of the worms in it, any time I pick up a nutshell, I can count on finding eggs or tiny, tiny baby worms inside. (These are quarter-pieces, broken open by squirrels.)

Oh, and has anyone else noticed that the worms will eat darn near anything–except seeds?! Is it some sort of professional courtesy, or do seeds have a coating with something that signals the worms not to eat it? I don’t know, but my vermicompost is all the time sprouting tomatoes and squash!

So that’s what I know, in Iowa….

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Buddy Byrd
#17. May 18th, 2010, at 7:05 PM.

Lee in Iowa,

Buddy here, just thought I’d add “what I know” about seeds. The best thing that I can tell you is that the Good Lord made those seeds to sprout and not rot (unless the seeds aren’t any good and decomposing). The worms would be eating the microorganisms that are eating the bad seeds.

Happy Worming!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com greg hughes
#18. May 18th, 2010, at 7:26 PM.

is greg’s ? true or false please leave comments thanks greg

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com greg hughes
#19. May 18th, 2010, at 7:31 PM.

o yes with all thes answers and comments i don’t know if i am comeing or going. lol greg hughes mississippi gulf coast great forum.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Buddy Byrd
#20. May 18th, 2010, at 8:15 PM.

Greg,

I’ve never heard if you touch the eggs they won’t hatch. I’ve read a lot about people touching the eggs with no ill affect. I’m in Louisiana and I agree, great forum.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Michael
#21. May 18th, 2010, at 9:56 PM.

I agree with both of the posts Buddy made.
Seeds are broken down by microbes when the embryo is no longer alive(viable).
I also have never heard of touching the eggs and they will not hatch. I don’t believe that at all, eggs are really tough for their size.
I have also manually hatched an egg out before. You have to time it just right then press on the egg to make it open up or pop. That egg contained 4 EF’s. If you try manually hatching an egg BEWARE that you may kill the worms if the egg is not ready at that time. I sacrificed 3 eggs before getting that egg hatched.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com cyndie lou
#22. May 23rd, 2010, at 6:16 PM.

ok i have a question i have my first wormbin i have to make myself stay out of it i like it so much i want to look several times a day. i was looking for castings so i could see them in real life and i saw what appeared to me to be baby cockroach eggs i smsahed a couple before i thought these could be something related to the worm i wasnt familiar with. i thought i would wait until they hatched out and see. who knows whai picked up in the dirt aslo i covered the holes in bin with window screens to keep out flies. does this also stop other insects that need to be inside? thanks for your replies. cyndiel ou

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com meemee
#23. March 9th, 2012, at 11:46 PM.

so yo telling me that my cocoen is alive

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jimmy
#24. April 25th, 2012, at 1:49 AM.

interesting post, thanks to you all, I agree with Chuk. along with the opinion of Lee in Iowa that has left his successor instinct adult worms in the environment for future safe temperature with no spikes. I just hobbies. I assume not need a new intake. I put cardboard egg cocoon in the former (which I can be free) and put it in my compost box to maintain temperature stability. after the third day I put a little (2 inch) to those half-finished compost, we were lucky about where I live in Java, there are many farms and farm worms. Thanks Bentley, I hope you continue to share and transmit the results of your research. . . very useful

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jeremiah slama
#25. June 6th, 2012, at 4:47 PM.

I got my worms 2 weeks ago about 2000 they are in a plastic tub and are not trying to scape there is about 3 sq ft of surface space and my worms are not laying eggs anyone know why

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Adam
#26. July 13th, 2012, at 3:16 AM.

Jeremiah….are the worms mature yet? Do they have a clitellum?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jimmy
#27. July 14th, 2012, at 8:52 AM.

Jeremiah…, I mix the rotten banana weevil (old and blackened), may make it comfortable coolness of banana weevil and egg-laying

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com ryan
#28. August 24th, 2014, at 12:30 PM.

I have three fiberglass worm bins with the leachate catch at the bottom each are 4×8 feet and I started with 10 lbs of worms in each one. I have lots and lots of worms now iv used everything from whole pieces of cardboard that I to my surprise was gone in a few weeks used yard debre paper and manures never really had much as far as fruit or vegitable matter. im stumped here though. I have tons of worms iv filled each bin with over a foot and a half of material as they ate it all down. I can never find … an egg. also how big is a mature worm normally.

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