Seattle and the Mystery of the Disappearing Red Worms

Yesterday I received an intriguing email from ‘Annette’. Her subject line
was “Seattle and the Mystery of the Red Composting Worm Disappearance” (as
you can see I’ve used an abridged version for the title of this post). Needless
to say, it sucked me right in! Here was her message:

I just called Seattle Tilth’s gardening hotline because I could not
figure out why on earth my red worms were gone. I’ve done this for
years and never had any issues. Conditions were not too wet or dry in
the wood worm bin. Apparently, most of Seattle is experiencing a red
worm disappearance.

Seattle Tilth has been selling compost worms for as long as I can remember and
they stopped because nobody – even other gardening stores – can figure
out what the hell is happening. (this happened before our recent cold
spell, I might add). Also, a friend of mine ordered online some worms
from a totally different source than where I got mine and his are gone
too. Any thoughts?

Hi Annette,

As you already know, this has me completely stumped! I decided to post it here on the blog for the sake of seeing if anyone else had heard anything about this.

If the worms were all from the same source it would be a lot easier to come up with a potential explanation for them disappearing like this. There might have been some sort of contamination in their bedding (pesticides or other harmful chemicals etc), among other possibilities – but given the fact that the worms are coming from a variety of sources this all sounds rather ominous!

There are no known Red Worm diseases of significance, and even if there were it would still seem pretty odd that the impact was (seemingly) so widespread in just the Seattle area.

I wonder if these are all outdoor systems? If so, perhaps there is some sort of (new?) pest in the Seattle area that is wreaking havoc. I seem to recall someone from out that way mentioning that there was a fairly new soil critter that was having an impact on earthworm populations. Perhaps I should try to dig up that email exchange!

Anyway – I would love to see if any other RWC readers have heard about this!

Thanks again for writing in.

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  1. I heard exact same thing from another worm farmer at the worm conference back in October. He lost 3/4 of his worm population. He said his redworms just disintegrated. He operates Bear Creek Organics in Pennsylvania.

    I hope is just contaminated feedstock not a disease.

  2. This is at least 2 months late. I found an old article by Dr. Elaine Ingham from the magazine Biocycle. Maybe one reason the worms disappear is from killer nematodes in the soil or the compost. Here is the article link:

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