Deformed Worms

Hi folks – sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been working on something new and exciting (worm related) recently and thus have been pretty focused. More on that fairly soon!

Anyway, I thought it might help to get back into the swing of things here with a reader question. Cindy is wondering what is wrong with her worms.

I’ve had my red wrigglers for a week now and have basically been
letting them settle in. Today when I had a look, I found some were
deformed looking … all lumpy, like someone had tied rubber bands all
up and down their bodies. Some looked like they had been travelling
along the bedding and stuck to it and tore on half … too dry? I
found some very short stumpy worms … 2mm long … babies? And two
stuck together … ok … I know what they were doing.

Anyway, I put some banana skins in that I stored over the winter,
might they be too dry?

Any info would be great!
Love your website!

Hi Cindy,
Thanks for the great question. Unfortunately, the shipping process can put a lot of stress on your worms, so it is very common to have at least a few casualties along the way.
I’ve heard of worms developing bulges from being fed too much protein, but I suspect in this case it is simply some of your worms dying due to trauma from the shipping experience.

When worms approach death they get very lethargic and go quite limp – I’ve also seen the bulging (and accompanying ultra-thin) sections as well, and have found that they are much more prone to breaking apart. Often, this seems to be when the shiny round mites appear and cover the dying worms. Many mistake this for the worms being attacked, whereas it is actually the mite scavengers simply taking care of the dead (or at least almost dead) worms.

This is part of the reason I strongly encourage people to set up their systems ahead of time, and to not add any new food for a week or two after the worms arrive. It is an important time for the worms to recuperate and rehydrate, so the last thing they will need to deal with is too much food in the bin etc. Of course, I’m not suggesting this is what’ happening in your case. As mentioned, it is just inevitable that some worms are less durable than others. This may sound harsh, but it’s actually probably better to eliminate them from the gene pool anyway to help your worm population becoming stronger overall.

Moisture is definitely important in your bin – everything should be nice and moist, but not with water pooling in the bottom. If you are using a rubber bin without drainage you need to be especially careful.

Anyway – hope this helps Cindy!

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    • Thomas
    • May 10, 2008

    Cindy – What Bentley and you describe, is something new to me. I experienced it for the first time this week. About two weeks ago I received a pound of Eisenia hortensis (Euro’s) and added them to an aged bin. Anywho, the bedding they came in was a combination of peat, something that looked like small pieces of paper egg carton and other unknown doodads – the moisture level was good. The worms were plenty moist upon arrival and acclimated quickly. The second batch I ordered came from the same company but was in pure peat moss. These worms were a bit dry and weather beaten. I found a few worms that looked like they had been twisted in different places by the guy at the fair, who makes animals out of balloons. A few others were a bit chewed up or in pieces. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the moisture content (the first batch was better hydrated) or the bedding material – I would think the pure peat would be less brutal on them in transit than bedding that was of different sizes and hardness’s but it wasn’t. The few I found in the second batch that were less than worm-like, I discarded. Once I wet down the rest (before I added them to the bin) they started to recover well and seem to be doing fine. I don’t have an explanation as to why one batch was moist and “alive” yet the other a bit homesick and tattered. According to my shipping email notice, they were both in transit the same amount of time. All I can say is I have taken a look the last couple of days and I can’t tell the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” – the second batch must have spoken to the first batch about their traumatic traveling ordeal and it looks like they won’t need therapy after all.
    I do understand how disconcerting it can be when the worms arrive in less than “good” condition but the ones that make it are well on their way to a life of eating, pooping and cocoon making. If the bin is properly set-up for the worms I think they will do fine in their new digs.
    Regards, Thomas

    • Bentley
    • May 12, 2008

    Hey Thomas,
    Glad to hear your second batch is doing better!
    Perhaps they were all harvested around the same time (worm farmers sometimes keep batches of worms ready for shipping so they can be sent out fast), but the second lot simply sat for longer waiting to get shipped.
    Hard to say for sure.

    Did you get in touch with the grower?


    • Mary
    • November 19, 2008

    I’ve had my bin for about 8 months.. been doing wonderful! Lots of cocoons, etc.

    Now my little squirmy friends are suffering and I’ve found it is very difficult to find definitive info to help us out of this stage.
    Cindy did a good job in describing her deformed worms. One place in the UK wrote back to me and said what I was describing (which is the same as Cindy’s description) is referred to as the “sausaging” effect or “bobbling”. Their thought was possibly too much protein.
    Cindy’s issue was thought to be a shipping issue… my little guys have been around for a while, yet have begun to show the same symptoms.

    In addition to the ‘sausaging’.. which makes each segment of their bodies appear to have been tied off or a rubber band put around each segment – some appear to be very short and stubby; some have large bulbous protrusions (almost like water balloons that are very pale yellowy in color), some have ‘bleeding ulcerations’. Some have these bulbous areas on the very tip ends, some around the middle areas.

    I’m working on collecting photos of these descriptions that I can post on my blog.. they may not be pretty, but I’m hoping this will help others who have had such a hard time in determining what is going on with their wigglers.

    I believe I’ve come up with some ideas of what caused this dilemma – but still have a few questions:

    What is considered “protein” in a worm diet? I’ve fed them nothing I would consider protein (ie: egg shells, nuts, meats).

    Are the castings high in protein?

    …There was a large build up of liquid that drenched the lowest bin (long story.. but it was taken care of).. they recovered well from that.. but, my not being a worm with PATIENCE… I thought I’d add very dry castings I had collected a few months ago to help dry things out a little more. I believe this is what caused the sausaging and bulbous protrusions and ‘bleeding ulcers’. I’ve read that castings ARE toxic and that they ARE NOT toxic.. so I’ve yet to find a consensus on that topic. It appears there is some level of toxicity.. which may tie into Cindy’s original post….

    Possibly – when they were shipped to Cindy they may have been chomping on some older castings. . . .?

    • Mary
    • November 20, 2008

    I put together the photos I mentioned above.. Here is a link to see photos of the “worm palace” and also photos of the deformed and dead worms.. they’re a little gross looking.. but could be very helpful for some.

    Any input would be appreciated!

    • Mary
    • November 20, 2008

    oops.. guess the link thing doesn’t work that way here… so I’ve posted the link in the “web page” area under my name.. and below.. just put a period where it says ‘dot’.. maybe that will work.

    Sorry if this is cumbersome to get thru.. but the photos will be worth looking at for those interested.

    naturenurtures (dot) blogspot (dot) com/2008/11/composting-with-red-worms_19 (dot) html

    • Bentley
    • November 21, 2008

    Hi Mary,
    First of all – I just wanted to say that those photos are fantastic! Thanks for sharing. That being said, I didn’t see any with the ‘bobbling’ effect you mentioned.

    I tend to subscribe to the “castings are not toxic” school of thought myself – BUT I simply feel that worms can go on living for quite some time in bedding that’s been essentially converted into vermicompost. I would never actually add finished worm castings back into a worm bin (no offence – haha), unless it was a very small quantity. If you want to absorb excess moisture, you are always better off to add some sort of dry, absorbent c-rich material.

    The term ‘protein’ is a bit misleading, since more specifically it is the dangerous nitrogenous compounds (which can be release during the decay of protein), namely ammonia, that cause the problems. Finished castings tend to be high in nitrate, and while this is certainly a more innocuous compound than ammonia, given the fact that it is highly soluble in water – perhaps it creates a bit of a toxic cocktail for worms when it’s added to the liquid in a worm bin. I’m just totally guessing here, however.

    Generally, this ‘protein poisoning’ occurs when excess quantities of N-rich wastes (eg. grass clippings, manure, legumes etc) are added to a vermicomposting system – without sufficient ‘bedding’ to help balance things out.

    • Mary
    • November 21, 2008

    Bentley – Thanks for your thoughts! I tend to agree with your ideas concerning the addition of finished castings back into the system. I’ve used manures of all types in ground gardening and know the dangers of the all powerful ‘pooh’. Your description of the breakdown of nitrates made sense to me.. thanks again.
    I’d never heard of ‘bobbling’ or ‘sausaging’ until a wormer from the UK wrote and mentioned these terms.. saying that in the UK they use the term sausaging and bobbling was something used in the US. They described these terms to mean the ‘rubber band around segments of the worm’s body effect’. The very first photo of the deformed worms shows that and the very last photo is probably the most profound view of that bobbling or sausaging. If you have time.. take another look. Have you ever seen any of the symptoms before?
    Thanks for your input … and, Bentley is a great name!

    • aga
    • August 4, 2012

    Hi. I have got my worms around 4 months with 200 DendrobeanaI worms.I have got good wormery with drainage. At start I made bedding from aged farm yard mannure (from shop) and papers ( eggs card boxes) and I added crushed eggs shelf. My worms were fine. From time to time I found one dead, deformed worm ( body braked with bubbles) but it didn`t worried me at the time. In 4 months I found all together maybe 5 dead worms.
    After 4 succesfull months I decided to buy Tiger Worms from reputable online shop. Worms arrived quickly, alive, but the bedding material was dry – it look like dry peat moss. I put Tiger Worms to my wormery . Every day I found 2-3 dead worms! I read that it might be protein poison. I didn`t give much scraps, but I decided to change all bedding. I did the same bedding like at start- the same horse mannure, egg shelf, eggs card box. It was 2 week ago.I still finding dead worms- 2 dead per day!
    don`t know what I do wrong!

    • Bentley
    • August 7, 2012

    Hi Aga,
    Adding a new batch of worms to an established system can be a bit risky. Even if the current population has adapted to the environment, it doesn’t mean it will be ideal for the new guys – especially if it’s been up and running for quite some time. Re: the tiger worms arriving quite dry, this is a very common practice during the summer since it helps worms to survive hot shipping conditions – with excess moisture the worms are far more likely to suffocate or just generally overheat.
    Trying to correct the situation after exposing the worms to a hostile environment may end up causing more problems since the worms are already quite stressed. Hopefully, with a little time the system will balance out a bit and your remaining worms will increase in number for you.

    • aga
    • August 8, 2012

    hi! Thank you Bentley for quick response!
    I have got another 150 Tiger worms ( i have got replacement from company after making complain). The new Tiger worms looks diffrent then the first one..the first one were very fat.The new one are younger,and not that fat.
    I still finding every day 1-2 dead worms, but not all of them are deformed. Only big one are dead, the small one are fine!
    Could you tell me if is a good idea to add some 1years old leaf mold? could you also tell what you think about garden lime..i never add garden lime strait to my wormery, I always put lime to the soil in the pot, i wait one week, and then i add this to wormery. I read that garden lime can burn worms, is this true? Can i add garden lime strait to the wormery, and if so, then should I add some water ?
    I also wonted to ask you about manure worms. In last years ,in October,I collected fresh horse manure, I placed manure in raised bed and I added fresh leaves.6months lather, In april-may I checked it, and it looks like half composted, that way I decided to grow some garden plants on it. I found many,many,many worms in it. I think there was a tiger worms, they hated light and they were very quick and jumpy..Can I place those worms and eggs to my wormery? thank you so much for response Aga

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