In one of our earlier articles about “all earthworms not being created equal”, we highlighted the role of epigeic type earthworms and their importance in managing high volumes of organic waste. Without them, our health and the environment would have been under serious threat.
Occasionally, however, we are often asked by the general public “why can’t I just use the earthworms in my backyard?” We would like to take this opportunity to share some knowledge on the ideal composting worm. As we indicated earlier epigeic earthworms are preferred for vermicomposting because of their habitat and diet preference. However, not all epigeic species are a qualified for vermicomposting. Suitably qualified earthworms should, therefore, possess the following characteristics:
1. The selected earthworm should be able to survive the vermicomposting environment. This is a controlled environment which is mainly characterized by high levels of organic matter. The suitable applicant should, therefore, be able to acclimatize very quickly to slight variations in humidity, temperature, salinity, and pH.
2. The selected earthworm must be able to efficiently bio-convert varying types of organic wastes. Candidates will be exposed to a wide variety of waste streams and are therefore expected to recycle these wastes in the shortest time possible, producing a finished product that is environmentally safe.
3. The selected earthworm must also display adaptive survival strategies such as rapid breeding without the use of any artificial enhancing stimulants. The success and growth of the vermicomposting system are solely reliant on the rapid development of successive generations. It is therefore imperative that the suitable applicant is able to reproduce exponentially. Please note that more rooms will be built to mitigate overcrowding. Applicants who display a slow-growth and low waste-conversion rate will not be considered.
4. The suitable applicant should also demonstrate a high resistance to pests and pathogens that would tend to affect earthworms.
5. The selected earthworm must be culturable, the behavioral traits of selected applicants in response to handling by hand or any form of mechanization is also very important. The selected earthworm should, therefore, allow for easy sorting and separation of worms from castings. Earthworms are also expected to remain at their place of work at all times as mass departures could be an indication of unfitness for the job.
Please be mindful that, it is based on the aforementioned characteristics that three known epigeic species (Eisenia fetida, Perionyx excavatus, and Eudrilus eugeniae) have been reported as most suitable for vermicomposting.