Attracting Compost Worms in Your Backyard

Here is a question from Francisco:

Hi there,

I am learning about worm bins and have been trying to start one just by catching them in the backyard. Your blog is great and I have spent so many hours reading the old posts.

I am not sure if the worms I catch are even good for composting. Unlike what some people have done, I don’t just go outside after it rains to try to find them. I have been putting wet cardboards in shady/wet areas of my yard that have a lot of old dead leafs. I would move the leafs and lay down the cardboards. To my surprise, I am catching a couple of them every time I left up the cardboard. The worms are fairly red, very thin and about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long.
Since they are coming up to eat the cardboard, is it safe to assume they are composting worms?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Keep up the good work on the blog, I know I will definitely be reading it.



Hi Francisco,
Thanks for the email – that is a really great question, and this is certainly a topic in general that quite a few people have inquired about. Unfortunately, there seems to be a very common misconception that any old type of worm can be used for worm composting – which as you obviously know, is not the case. To compound this issue, the first worms people usually think of are the ones that come out after a heavy rain and/or those ones encountered when digging around in the garden. More often than not, these are exclusively soil-based worms – NOT those species adapted for life in rich organic matter (such as that found in a compost heap or worm bin)!

There are three basic groupings of earthworms – 1) ‘Anecic‘, 2) ‘Endogeic‘, and 3) ‘Epigeic‘. The anecic worms, such as the large ‘Canadian Nightcrawlers’ (aka ‘Dew Worms’ – Lumbricus terrestris) build deep burrows, typically extending down to the mineral soil layers. They live a relatively solitary life (coming up the the surface for feeding, mating, and to escape from flooded burrows), and generally thrive at cooler temperatures than those worms in the other two groups.

Endogeic worms are basically the intermediates between the other two groups. They are still soil worms, but are typically located closer to the soil surface. Unlike the anecic worms, they often create horizontal (rather than vertical) burrows.

The last group, the epigeic earthworms, are of course the ones we are most interested in from a composting stand-point. This group generally lives at or above the soil surface – typically associated with concentrations of rich organic matter (eg. leaf litter, manure etc). They also tend to be much more tolerant of crowded conditions and wider fluctuations in temperature. Because they live in these potentially harsh/challenging environments, epigeic worms also tend to grow and reproduce much more quickly than the other groups of worms (helping to ensure the success of future generations).

You are certainly on the right track with your approach, Francisco. If there ARE any epigeic species of worms located on or near your property, there is a decent chance you will be able to attract them to an area where you have added organic matter on the soil surface. Whether or not you will attract the best species and/or enough worms to make your efforts worthwhile, is another matter altogether.

I know that if I did the same thing in my own yard, I would end up with lots of Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) concentrated in the organic-material-rich-zones. As an illustration, I recently left a few (freshly harvested) zucchinis on my lawn for a day or two. When I went to collect them, I discovered a handful of small Red Worms underneath each of them! I can only imagine how quickly I could populate a heap of aged manure if I dumped it on my lawn!

If one of your neighbors happens to be composting with worms, or if they have found their way into the area via some other means, you may be in luck! More than likely though, you will end up with a mix of epigeic and endogeic species that just happen to be living close by.

The fact that you’ve found some small reddish worms could be a good sign, but the only way you will know for sure if they will work is to put them to the test in a worm bin. As for them coming up under your cardboard – this is pretty common for most types of earthworms. Leave just about anything to sit out on your lawn for long enough, and you’ll likely end up with quite a few worms congregating underneath.

Hope this helps!

**For Even More Worm Fun, Sign Up for the RWC E-mail List!**
Previous Post

Is My Worm Bin On Fire?

Next Post

5 lb Red Worm Special


    • Ann
    • October 18, 2009

    Hey Bentley –

    I was ridiculously excited today when I checked my worm bin after ignoring it completely for probably 3 weeks: 1 week due to influenza, the following 2 due partly to catching up on life after a week of illness, and the rest from pure fear of what I’d find when I lifted the lids…

    What I found, instead of the complete disaster I half-expected was exactly the opposite! Happy, happy worms – with only a few dopes up on the lid now – who are getting bigger and… (drum roll, please) have produced EGGS! I was way more happy about this than anyone else in my family, so I guess I just wanted to share that with someone who understands… 😉

    ANYways, my question is actually about a small container of worms my husband would like to add to my bin. He bought them for fishing bait, but they are definitely not night crawlers. The container says “Leaf Worms,” which doesn’t help me at all. They are slightly larger than any of mine, and also a bit darker. For whatever it’s worth, they are congregated on the very top of the small amount of soil in the container, and dive under when I take the lid off to check them out…

    Do you think it would be okay to add these to my bin?

    Thanks, as always, for your help!


    • Bentley
    • October 19, 2009

    Hi Ann,
    I am always harping about the fact that it is far easier to succeed with vermicomposting when you totally neglect your worms, than when you try to “take care of them” too much! Thanks for helping to support the cause by sharing your findings, Ann!

    “Leaf Worms” is supposed to refer to Lumbrucus rubellus (another type of ‘Red Worm’) – but it’s hard to say for sure. May simply be Eisenia fetida (often mislabeled as L. rubellus) – the bottom-line here is that they should at least be ok for composting, so do try them out!

    • Ann
    • October 20, 2009

    Aw shucks, Bentley, anything I can do to help! 😉

    • geri
    • October 23, 2009

    Hi Bentley,
    my friend gave me a bag of home compost & in there, i found many small worms that look very similar to young red worms. Only difference is that they are more active & tend to “jump” when touched.
    my friend suspected that those are red worms that had “migrated” fm her worm bin to the compost bin (both bins are placed side by side)
    will you be able to ID it?


    is it safe to mix them with my bin of red worms?


    • Bentley
    • November 3, 2009

    Hi Geri – tough to get a good look at those worms, but based on your description I would say that you might have ‘Blue Worms’ (Perionyx excavatus) – these are definitely much more active than Red Worms, including the tendency to leave worm bins for no apparent reason.
    If you have more pics feel free to let me know.

    • Catherine
    • August 27, 2015

    Hello Bentley – I am new to vermiculture, I have a good-sized backyard vegetable garden that I plan to sheet compost this Autumn. Here’s my question, can I add the red worms to the garden or (don’t laugh) must they be added to the compost bin? If I add them to the garden, where in the layering process of sheet mulching do I add the worms?

    • Donna
    • May 7, 2018

    Hi Bently and all,
    I am hopeing you all can help. I AM IN LOVE with worms!! lol That being said I have started a worm farm with the worms I have collected outside and have been successful I have gotten MUCH compost may eggs and happy worms they told me so!! That being said I a trying to teach my nephew all about vermicomposting and after reading so many things saying I do not have the right worms I have been wondering what it would be like with the RIGHT worms. I was have been looking for someone or somewhere to donate the worms as I relly can’t put the money out for them at this time but feel it is a valuable lesson for him to learn. Do you know of any place that would donate some or even trade for some lucious black gold? if so please feel free to comment and let me know who I can communicate with about this. Thanks so much and keep on wriggling!!

    • Bentley
    • May 11, 2018

    Hey Donna
    Where are you located? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could post on the RWC Facebook group and find someone fairly close by who was willing to donate some worms. Yes, a lot of the time “yard worms” are not the right kind of worms – but this is not necessarily the case. If you started a bin using worms found in a backyard composting bin you may actually have a perfectly acceptable composting species. And whatever they are, if they are thriving in a bin, eating waste materials and producing nice compost I would say you are on the right track!

    • Kelly
    • January 26, 2021

    Hello! I have been composting for a little over a year in preparation for my 2nd year of gardening.I was mixing my compost minding my own business when my 3 year old pointed out that there were worms in there. The compost container has holes for plenty of ventilation and was sitting partially on the yard. When I looked closely they were small red worms and there were at least a handful that I noticed easily. I gently covered them in soil. They were small and red. Maybe between 1-2 inches long. I also saw small lemon shaped “seeds” while flipping my compost. I believe what I saw was eggs or cocoons. Is it possible that red worms found their way to my compost from my yard? And can I mix or flip my compost without disturbing their work?

    • Bentley
    • February 8, 2021

    Hi Kelly – those do sound like they could be Red Wigglers and seeing the cocoons is a great sign as well. If someone in your area happens to be composting with worms outdoors they could have easily found their way over to your property as well. RWs are pretty mellow and hardy so some mixing shouldn’t harm them. High/low temps can certainly cause issues though. Not sure where you are, or exactly the type of bin we are talking about here, but if it is a plastic tub type of bin that can definitely get VERY hot in the summer. You might try starting up a smaller indoor bin with some of these wigglers to see what happens! 😎

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Get Your Free Vermicomposting Guide!

* Join the Red Worm Composting E-Mail List Today *