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Vermiculture Glossary


ACID A liquid that tastes sour and smells somewhat sharp. Acids help dissolve rock and break down food. Vinegar is an acid. It is a normal product of decomposition. Redworms do best in a slightly acid (pH less than 7) environment. Below pH 5 can be toxic. Addition of pulverized egg shells and/or lime helps to neutralize acids in a worm bin. See pH.

ACTINOMYCETES Fungi-like bacteria. New name for this group is Actinobacteria.

AGGREGATION Clustering, as when soil particles form granules that aid in aeration and/or water penetration.

AERATION Exposure to a medium of air which allows exchange of gases.

AEROBIC Pertaining to the presence of free oxygen. Organisms that utilize oxygen to carry out life functions.

AIR Mixture of atmospheric gases, including nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases in smaller quantities.

ALBUMIN A protein in cocoons that serves as a food source for embryonic worms. Also found in egg white.

ALKALINE Containing bases (hydroxides, carbonates) which neutralize acids to form salts. See ACID and pH.

ALLOLOBOPHARA CALIGINOSA One of the early scientific names for the species of earthworm now known as APORRECTODEA TURGIDA, the pasture worm.

ALLOLOBOPHORA CALIGINOSA Scientific name for green worm. It may look green, but also may appear yellow, pink and gray. Found in a wide variety of soil habitats, including gardens, fields, pastures, forest, clay, peat soils, lake shores and stream banks, and among organic debris. This species is generally a shallow burrower. (Also called an Earthmover)

ANAEROBIC Pertaining to the absence of free oxygen. Organisms that can grow without oxygen present.

ANIMAL A living being capable of sensing its environment and moving about. Animals live by eating the bodies of other organisms, whether plant or animal.

ANNELID Term for a member of the Phylum Annelida containing segmented worms.

ANTERIOR Toward the front.

APPORECTODEA TRAPEZOIDES Scientific name for southern worm , commonly found in earth around potted plants, gardens, fields, forest soils, and bank of springs and streams. This worm lacks pigment. Its color is often lighter behind the clitellum, darkening to brown, brownish, or reddish brown toward the posterior. Flattening of body near posterior makes cross-section appear rectangular.

APPORECTODEA TURGIDA Scientific name for pasture worm, commonly found in gardens, fields, turf, compost, and banks of springs and streams. This worm lacks pigment. The anterior may be flesh pink, the remaining segments pale gray.

AQUATIC Living in or upon water.

ARCTIC Pertaining to the region around the North Pole.


BACTERIA Plural for bacterium, a one-celled organism which can be seen only with a microscope. Bacteria may be shaped like spheres, rods, or twisted springs. Some bacteria cause decay; others may cause disease. Most bacteria are beneficial because they help recycle nutrients.

BAR GRAPH Presentation of data using columnar blocks. Also known as a histogram.

BARRIER A geographic zone such as an ocean, desert, or glacier which would prevent the migration of an earthworm. Barriers may be different for other kinds of animals.

BEDDING Moisture-retaining medium which provides a suitable environment for worms. Worm beddings are usually cellulose-based, such as newspaper, corrugated cartons, leaf mold, or compost.

BIO-DEGRADABLE Capable of being broken down into simple parts by living organisms.

BIOLOGIST A scientist who studies living things.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL Management of pests within reasonable limits by encouraging natural predator/prey relationships and avoiding use of toxic chemicals.

BLOOD A liquid medium circulating in the bodies of many animals. Blood caries food and oxygen to the tissues and carries waste products, including carbon dioxide, away from the tissues. Earthworms and humans both have a red, hemoglobin-based blood for oxygen transport.

BREATHE To carry on activities to permit gas exchange. Humans and land-dwelling vertebrates do this by expanding the lung capacity to dray air in, and reducing it to force air out. Worms conduct gas exchange through their moist skin, but do not actually breathe.

BREEDERS Sexually mature worms as identified by a clitellum.

BRISTLES Tiny rigid structures on most segments of earthworms which serve as brakes during movement. Known a setae, the patterns they form are a major distinguishing characteristic of earthworms.

BURROW Tunnel formed when an earthworm eats its way through soil, or pushes soil aside to form a place to live and move more readily through the earth.


CALCIUM CARBONATE Used to reduce acidity in worm bins and agricultural soils. See LIME.

CARBON DIOXIDE Gas produced by living organisms as they utilize food to provide energy.Also produced through the burning of fossil fuels.


CASTING TEA A solution containing nutrients which dissolve in water in the presence of worm castings.

CELLULOSE An inert compound containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; a component of worm beddings. Cellulose is found in wood, cotton, hemp, and paper fibers.

CENTIPEDE A predator sometimes found in worm bins. Centipedes have more than 8 jointed legs with one pair of legs attached to each of many segments.

CLASSIFY To organize materials, organisms, or information based upon a defined set of characteristics.

CLAY As a soil separate, the mineral soil particles which are less than 0.002 mm in diameter. As a soil type, soil material that is 40% or more clay, less than 45% sand, and less than 40% silt. Clay has smooth particles and feels sticky when wet. Clay absorbs moisture readily.

CLIMATE The prevailing or average weather conditions of a place over a period of years.

CLITELLUM A swollen region containing gland cells which secrete the cocoon material. Sometimes called a girdle or band, it is present on sexually mature worms.

COCOON Structure formed by the clitellum which protects embryonic worms until they hatch.

COLD-BLOODED Having blood that varies in temperature approximating that of the surrounding air, land, and water. Fishes, reptiles, and worms are cold-blooded animals.

COMPOST Biological reduction of organic waste to humus. Used to refer to both the process and the end product. One composts (verb) leaves, manure, and garden residues to obtain compost (noun) which enhances soil texture and fertility when used in gardens.

CONCENTRATION In air or water, the strength or density of particles in a defined volume. The air we inhale has a higher concentration of oxygen molecules than carbon dioxide molecules.

CONSUMER An organism that feeds on other plants or animals.

CONTRACT Action of muscle as it draws up, or gets shorter.

CULTURE To grow organisms under defined conditions. Also, the product of such activity, as a bacterial culture. Vermiculture is growing worms in culture.

CYST A sac, usually spherical, surrounding an animal in a dormant state.


DDT A toxic pesticide found to accumulate in the food chain and cause the death of animals which were only indirectly exposed.

DECOMPOSE To decay, to rot; to break down into smaller particles.

DECOMPOSER An organism that breaks down cells of dead plants and animals into simpler substances.

DECOMPOSITION The process of breaking down complex materials into simpler substances. End products of much biological decomposition are carbon dioxide and water.

DENDROBAENA OCTAEDRA Scientific name of earthworm known as the octagonal-tail worm. Found mostly in non-cultivated sites, such as in sod or under moss on stream banks, under logs and leafy debris, or in cool moist ravines. Also found in dung and in soil high in organic matter. A surface-dwelling species. Posterior is octagonal in cross-section.

DEW WORM The common name used by Canadians for Lumbricus terrestris, known to people around the world as the nighcrawler.

DIGESTIVE TRACT The long tube where food is broken down into forms an animal can use. It begins at the mouth and ends at the anus.

DISSECT To cut open in order to examine and identify internal structures.

DISSOLVE To go into solution.

DORSAL The top surface of an earthworm.


EARTHWORM A segmented worm of the annelid group which contains some 4000 species. Most earthworms are terrestrial that is, they live on the ground. Earthworms have bristles known as setae which enable them to burrow in the soil. Earthworms help to aerate and enrich the soil.

ECOLOGY The science of the interrelationships between living things and their surroundings.

EGG A female sex cell capable of developing into an organism when fertilized by a sperm.


EISENIA ANDREI Scientific name for one of several redworm species used in vermicomposting. E. andrei lacks the buff and red stripping of the tiger worm. Called the "red tiger," E. andrei has the same performance characteristics as E. foetida. Most commercial cultures contain a mixture of both species, and growers do not separate them.

EISENIA foetida Scientific name for one of several redworm species used for vermicomposting. Color varies from purple, red, dark red to brownish red, often with alternating bands of yellow in between segments. Found in manure, compost heaps, and decaying vegetation where moisture levels are high. Frequently raised in culture on earthworm farms. See also LUMBRICUS RUBELLUS.

EISENIA ROSEA Scientific name for worm known as the pink soil worm. Color is rosy or grayish when alive. During hibernation in cold winters and estivation during hot, dry summers, worm may be found in the soil tightly coiled in a small pink ball. Most common habitat is in soil under logs.

EISENIELLA TETRAEDA Scientific name for worm known as the square-tail worm. Body is cylindrical anterior to the clitellum, square in cross-section behind the clitellum. The species shows a preference for damp habitats, having been found near wells, springs, underground waters, rivers, ponds, lakes, and canals. It has been found in bottom deposits of streams, lakes, and ponds.

ENCHYTRAEIDS Small white segmented worms common in vermicomposting systems. As decomposers, they do not harm earthworms. Also called pot worms.

ENVIRONMENT Surroundings, habitat.

EXCRETE To separate and to discharge waste.

EXPERIMENT To conduct research by manipulating variables to answer specific questions expressed as statements known as hypotheses.


FECES Waste discharged from the intestine through the anus. Manure. Worm castings.

FERTILIZER To supply nutrients to plants, or, to impregnate an egg.

FOOD CHAIN The sequence defined by who eats whom, starting with a producer(green plant).

FOOD WEB The sequence defined by who eats whom, starting with producers and progressing through various levels of consumers, including decomposers, and predators. Many organisms may be more than one level of consumer, depending upon whether they eat a plant, a microorganism which has consumed a plant, or an animal which ate the microorganism which ate the plant. A food web describes more complex linkages and interrelationships than a food chain.

FUNGI A large group of plants having no green color and which reproduce by spores. The group includes mushrooms, toadstools, and microscopic plants including molds and mildew.

FUNGUS A member of the plant group Fungi. The plural of fungus is fungi. Use fungi in reference to more than one plant, capitalize the term Fungi when referring to the major plant group.


GARBAGE Wet discards, food waste, and offal, as contrasted with trash, which refers to discards that are dry.

GENUS A category of classification which groups organisms with similar characteristics. These are more general than species characteristics.

GLAND A specialized type of tissue which produces secretions. Glands in a worms' skin produce mucus.


GIZZARD Structure in anterior portion of digestive tract whose muscular contractions help grind food in the presence of grit.


HATCHLINGS Worms as they emerge from a cocoon.

HEART Muscular thickening in blood vessels whose valves control the direction of blood flow. Earthworms have several (commonly 5 pairs) of these blood vessels (single valve) which connect the dorsal to ventral blood vessels.

HEAVY METAL Dense metal such as cadmium, lead, copper, and zinc which can be toxic in small concentrations. Build up of heavy metals in garden soil should be avoided.

HEMOGLOBIN Iron-containing compound in blood responsible for its oxygen-carrying capacity.

HISTOGRAM A way of presenting data using columnar blocks. Also known as a bar graph.

HUMUS Complex, highly stable material formed during breakdown of organic material.

HYDRATED LIME Calcium hydroxide. Do not use in worm bins. See LIME.

HYPOTHESIS A prediction or educated guess which is used to guide a scientist in designing an experiment.

IMMIGRATE To move into a region.


INOCULATE To provide an initial set of organisms for a new culture.


LARVA Early form of any animal that changes structurally before becoming an adult. A caterpillar is an insect larva which becomes a moth or butterfly an an adult.

LEACH To run water through a medium, causing soluble materials to dissolve and drain off.

LEAF MOLD Leaves in an advanced stage of decomposition.

LIME A calcium compound which helps reduce acidity in worm bins. Use calcium carbonate, ground limestone, egg shells, or oyster shells. Avoid caustic, slaked, and hydrated lime.

LIMESTONE Rock containing calcium carbonate.

LITTER(LEAF) Organic material on forest floor containing leaves, twigs, decaying plants, and associated organisms.

LOAM A rich soil composed of clay, sand, and some organic matter. Soil material that is 7% to 27% clay particles, 28% to 50% silt particles, and less than 52% sand particles. The organic matter acts like a sponge to hold water.

LUMBRICIDAE Name of family group to which several redworm and nightcrawler species of earthworms belong.

LUMBRICUS RUBELLUS Scientific name for a redworm species. Color is ruddy-brown or violet-red, iridescent dorsally, and pale yellow ventrally. It has been found in a wide variety of habitats, including under debris, in stream banks, under logs, in woody peat, in places rich in humus, and under dung in pastures. Grown in culture by worm growers.

LUMBRICUS TERRESTRIS Scientific name for large burrow-dwelling nightcrawler. Also known as the nighcrawler, Canadian nighcrawler, or dew worm.


MACROORGANISM Organism large enough to see be the naked eye.

MARL A crumbly soil consisting mainly of clay, sand, and calcium carbonate.

MATE To join as a pair; to couple.

MECASCOLIDES AUSTRALIS Scientific name of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm of Australia, one of the largest earthworm species in the world.

MEMBRANE A tissue barrier capable of keeping some substances out and letting others in.

MICROORGANISM Organism requiring magnification for observation.

MICROSCOPE, DISSECTING An instrument permitting magnification of organisms too small to see clearly with the naked eye, but too large for a light microscope.

MINERAL A naturally occurring substance found on the earth which is neither animal nor plant. Minerals have distinct properties such as color, hardness, or texture.

MINERAL SOIL Soil that is mainly mineral material and low in organic material. Its bulk density is greater than organic soil.

MOLD A downy or furry growth on the surface of organic matter, caused by fungi, especially in the presence of dampness or decay.

MOLECULE The smallest particle of an element or compound that can exist by itself. Two atoms of oxygen make up a molecule of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen and one atom of carbon make up a molecule of carbon dioxide.

MUCK Dark colored, finely divided, well-decomposed organic soil material mixed with mineral soil. The content of organic matter is more than 20%. Muck has the least amount of plant fiber to bulk density, and the lowest water content of all organic soil material when saturated with water.

MUCUS A watery secretion, often thick and slippery, produced by gland cells. One function is to keep membranes moist.

MUSCLE Tissue made of specialized cells whose main function is to contract.


NEMATODES Small (usually microscopic) roundworms with both free-living and parasitic forms. Not all nematodes are pests.

NIGHTCRAWLER A common name for the worm Lumbricus terrestris. Often called the Canadian nightcrawler in the United States, or dew worm in Canada.

NITROGEN An odorless, colorless, tasteless gas which makes up nearly four fifths of the earth's atmosphere. When it combines with oxygen through the action of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, it can become incorporated into living tissue as a major part of protein.

NOCTURNAL Coming out at night.

NOURISH To promote or sustain growth.


OCTOLASION CYANEUM Scientific name for the woodland blue worm. Body is octagonal in the posterior. It is blue-gray or whitish, and found in damp locations, including under stones in water, in moss, and on stream banks.

OLIGOCHAETA Name of the class of annelids to which earthworms belong, characterized by having setae.

OPTIMAL Most favorable conditions, such as for growth or for reproduction.

ORGANIC Pertaining to or derived from living organisms.

ORGANIC MATTER Material which comes from something which was once alive.

ORGANISM Any individual living thing.

OVARY Organ which produces eggs.

OVERLOAD To deposit more garbage in a worm bin than can be processes aerobically.

OXYGEN Gaseous element in the earth's atmosphere essential to life as we know it.


PATIO BENCH WORM BIN Worm bin, usually wooden, large and sturdy enough to use as a bench on the patio or in the garden setting.

PEAT MOSS Sphagnum moss which is mined from bogs, dried, ground, and used as an organic mulch.

PEST An organism which someone wants to get rid of.

PESTICIDE A chemical, synthetic or natural, which kills pests.

pH An expression for degree of acidity and alkalinity based upon the hydrogen ion concentration. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, pH of 7 being neutral, less than 7 acid, greater than 7, alkaline.

PIT-RUN Worm of all sizes, as contrasted with selected breeders.

PLANT An organism which is green at some stage of its life and which uses the energy from sunlight to produce its own food. Plants do not move about on their own. An oak tree is a plant
( a rather stout plant, at that).

POLLUTE To make foul or unclean, to contaminate.

POPULATION The total number of individuals of a single species in a defined area.

POPULATION DENSITY Number of specific organisms per unit area, e.g. 1000 worms per square foot.

POSTERIOR Toward the rear, back, or tail.

POTTING SOIL A medium for potting plants.


PROSTOMIUM Fleshy lobe protruding above the mouth of an earthworm.

PROTEIN Complex molecule containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen; a major constituent of meat. Worms are approximately 60% protein.

PROTOZOA Plural for protozoan, a one-celled organism belonging to the animal kingdom. Most protozoa live in water and can be seen only with a microscope. Some move by means of tiny hairs called cilia, others by a whip-like tail called a flagellum, and others by false feet called pseudopodia like amoebas have.


RATIO A fixed relationship, expressed numerically, as in a worm:garbage ratio of 2:1.

REDWORMS A common name for Eisenia foetida and also Lumbricus rebellus. Eisenia foetida is a common worm used for vermicomposting, although in some parts of North America, Lumbricus rubellus is more common.

REGENERATE To replace lost parts.

RESPIRE To exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide to maintain bodily processes.


SALT Salts are formed in worm bins as acids and bases combine, having been released from the decomposition of complex compounds.

SAND Loose, gritty particles of disintegrated rock ranging in size from 0.05 mm to 2.0 mm in diameter. Soil that is 85% or more sand and not more than 10% clay is classified as sandy soil. Sandy soil particles feel gritty. Water drains quickly through sandy soil.

SCIENTIST A person who studies natural phenomena in a systematic manner.

SECRETE To release a substance that fulfills some function within the organism.

SEGMENTS Numerous disc-shaped portions of an earthworm's body bounded anteriorly and posteriorly by membranes. People identify earthworm species by counting the number of segments anterior to the position of structures such as the clitellum, ovaries, or testes. Segmentation is a characteristic of all annelids.

SETAE Bristles on each segment used in locomotion.

SEXUALLY MATURE Possessing a clitellum and capable of reproducing.

SILT As a soil separate, individual mineral particles that range in diameter from the upper limit of clay (0.002 mm) to the lower limit of very fine sand (0.05mm). As a soil textural class, silt is 80% or more silt and less than 12% clay.

SLIME Mucus secretion of earthworms which helps to keep skin moist so that gas exchange can take place.

SOIL Soil is made up of mineral particles, organic matter, air, and water. The mineral particles are called sand, clay, or silt, depending on their size. Sand has large particles and feels gritty. Clay has fine particles and feels sticky or slippery when wet. Silt particles range between clay and very fine sand. Soil types have different amounts of each of these particles. Loam is a mixture of sandy soil, clay, and organic matter. The organic matter acts like a sponge to hold water.

SOUTHERN WORM Common name for Aporrectodea trapezoides.

SOW BUG A small crustacean with 10 pairs of legs which breathes with gills and lives in organic litter.

SPECIES Basic category of biological classification, characterized by individuals which can breed together.

SPERM Male sex cells.

SPERM-STORAGE SACS Pouches which hold sperm received during mating.

SPRINGTAIL A small primitive insect with a turned-under projection on its abdomen which causes it to spring about.

STRESS To produce conditions which cause an organism to experience discomfort.

SUBSOIL Mineral bearing soil located beneath humus-containing topsoil.


TAXONOMIST A scientist who specializes in classifying and naming organisms.

TERRESTRIAL Living on land.

TESTIS (plural, testes) Organ which produces male sex cells (sperm).

TOP DRESSING Nutrient-containing materials placed on the soil surface around the base of plants.

TOXIC Poisonous, life-threatening.

TRASH Refers specifically to discards which are theoretically dry, such as newspapers, boxes, cans, and so forth. The term is commonly used to indicate anything we throw away, including organics. With increasing emphasis on recycling, less material should be thrown away as trash.

TURGID Swollen, distended, pressing out against sides.


VENTRAL Term for the underneath surface of an earthworm.

VERMICOMPOSTING Mixture of partially decomposed organic waste, bedding, worm castings, cocoons, worms, and associated organisms. As a verb, to carry out composting with worms.

VERMICULTURE The raising of earthworms under controlled conditions.

VIBRATION A rapid, rhythmic motion back and forth. Earthworms are sensitive to vibration.


WARM-BLOODED Having warm blood and a constant natural body heat which is specific for each species. Mammals and birds are warm-blooded.


WOODLAND BLUE WORM Common name for Octolasion cyaneum.

WORM BEDDING The medium, usually cellulose-based, in which worms are raised in culture, such as shredded corrugated cartons, newspaper, or leaf mold.

WORM BIN Container designed to accommodate a vermicomposting system.

WORM CASTING Undigested material, soil, and bacteria deposited through the anus. Worm manure.

WORM:GARBAGE RATIO Relationship between weight of worms and garbage used in a bin to convert the garbage to a useful end-product.


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