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)

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Comments

    • Anna
    • May 11, 2010

    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?

    • Anna
    • May 11, 2010

    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 :).

    • Bentley
    • May 11, 2010

    Pummeled me with questions?? I only see two, Anna!
    😆
    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)

    • Chuck Haynes
    • May 11, 2010

    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.

    • Mike Green
    • May 11, 2010

    “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?

    • Michael
    • May 11, 2010

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

    • Paul
    • May 12, 2010

    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

    • LARRY D.
    • May 12, 2010

    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.

    • Paul
    • May 13, 2010

    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.

    • Bentley
    • May 13, 2010

    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)

    • Paul
    • May 14, 2010

    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.

    • mike
    • May 14, 2010

    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?

    • greg hughes
    • May 16, 2010

    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

    • Mario
    • May 18, 2010

    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.

  1. 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….

  2. 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….

  3. 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!

    • greg hughes
    • May 18, 2010

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

    • greg hughes
    • May 18, 2010

    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.

  4. 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.

    • Michael
    • May 18, 2010

    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.

    • cyndie lou
    • May 23, 2010

    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

    • meemee
    • March 9, 2012

    so yo telling me that my cocoen is alive

    • Jimmy
    • April 25, 2012

    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

    • jeremiah slama
    • June 6, 2012

    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

    • Adam
    • July 13, 2012

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

    • Jimmy
    • July 14, 2012

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

    • ryan
    • August 24, 2014

    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.

    • SoCalDeere
    • March 28, 2015

    I cant afford to buy a truck load of worms

    So I am very intrested in breeding My own

    So I am following this thread and this group

    • Christopher
    • April 21, 2015

    I have 3 bins (RM style) and Red wigglers. I have the main bin for the “herd” second bin with several (4 mature adults) for breeding and the third, for cocoons (empty at the moment)

    Additionally; I have 3 bins on another table (2 18 gallon) for cocoons and breeding and a 36 gallon tub for the main herd – European Night Crawler – (heading this way as I speak) I also have 100 cocoons of ENC heading this way soon so I can study both species, and have enough of each in all tubs in case I screw up miserably. Bentley – 36 gallon tub filled 12 inches high – RM style = how many sq. ft – and what is the max amount of worms for this.

  5. Worm eggs are no way the same as a cocoon. Those that think they r need to be corrected worms do not metamorph into something else.

    • Bentley
    • June 27, 2015

    Hi Danny
    In this case the term “cocoon” does not have the same meaning as it does for insects such as moths and butterflies.
    You are however correct in that “eggs” are not the same as “cocoons”. Fertilized eggs are deposited IN the cocoon as it forms (from a mucus ring). In the case of Red Worms, each cocoon produces an average of 3 young worms.

    • Cindy
    • July 17, 2015

    We raise rabbits for meat and are ready to combine our rabbit poop and kitchen scraps with worm composting. My one question I have not been able to find an answer to is , if we put our worm compost bins directly under our rabbits, will their pee hurt or have a negative effect on the worms or composting process? Or would it be better to have the bins off to the side and divert the poop to the bins?

    Thank you for your time, Cindy

    • Cathy
    • January 4, 2017

    Why are some cocoons round and yellow birth lg and sm., and others are football shaped?

    • Bentley
    • January 10, 2017

    Interesting question, Cathy! It may have to do with the age of the cocoons, as well as the number of worms each cocoon contains. I am of course assuming here you only have one kind of worm (obviously different worms can have cocoons with somewhat different shapes). I’ve noticed that newer (freshly laid) cocoons can tend to be a bit more round, while the older ones are a bit more elongated. In the case of Red Worms, cocoons can have more than one worm in them (the average is supposed to be 3 in fact). So it would make sense that if a cocoon only had one worm in it, it would be smaller than one with three worms in it.

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