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How Do Earthworms Get Their Food?

By Lee Parker | Updated September 26, 2017

Not everyone thinks worms are icky. Nonaggressive, helpful to the environment and easily owned, they are great pets for lovers of invertebrates. If you're going to keep earthworms, feed them exactly what they eat in nature -- mostly microscopic organisms that inhabit soil.

Food for Worms

How Do They Eat?

An earthworm's mouth is called its prostomium; it is pointed and hard. This helps them to burrow and press into crevices to consume dirt and decayed leaves and vegetation. The food they find is stored in a crop similar to a bird's, which holds the food until it is ground up by small bits of grit or sand that remain there to help digest food. Because of their gizzards, earthworms are able to digest food that other animals cannot: the gizzard breaks food down to the base nutrients that the earthworms can pass through their small intestines.

What Can I Give Them?

To help feed your earthworms, focus on providing as many microscopic organisms as you can. This means kitchen scraps, compost from your trash or lawn, and freshly dug soil. But a number of foods you absolutely cannot feed earthworms.

Do Not Feed:

  • Meat and bones
  • Salty foods
  • Processed or fast food
  • Feces
  • Mowed or cut green grass
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus

All of these will be very toxic to your earthworms. Meat and bones are not only difficult for worms to process but will also attract predators and flies. Salty foods, feces, alcohol and citrus are all toxic to earthworms; they could kill them. Cut green grass has thermodynamic properties that can raise temperatures to unlivable levels for earthworms.

Your pet earthworm will flourish and grow fat on a diet of healthy new soil, rotting fruits and vegetables, and even nonfood items such as junk mail, cardboard, egg cartons and dried leaves.