How to find worms in your yard with the kids

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Did you know that the largest earthworm ever found was a whopping 22-foot-long worm in South Africa?

In North America, most worms are just a few inches long, but these harmless invertebrates can be a source of endless fascination for younger kids and make a fun science project or pet for older ones.

If your children are interested in earthworms then read on to find out how to find worms in your own yard, including where to look for them, how to catch them, and how to handle them safely.

We’ll also help you to identify exactly what kind of worms you’ve found.

In short, you can find earthworms easily almost anywhere, anytime. However, for the best results you and your kids should look in the spring and fall when the temperatures are mild and soil conditions are good. Worms are more active, and easier to catch, at night due to their nocturnal lifestyle.

If you just start digging in your yard with a small shovel, it probably won’t be too hard to find a worm! However, you can also attract worms to a cardboard trap or try the exciting “worm fiddling” technique for something a little more exciting.

Now that we’ve whet your appetite, let’s go digging for worms!


Why hunt for worms with your kids?

There can be many reasons why you might want to collect worms.

Although you don’t need any reason at all aside from it being a fun activity to keep your kids entertained.

Popular reasons for gathering worms:

  • To use as bait for fishing
  • To keep as pets in a worm farm
  • To bring to your garden to improve the soil quality
  • To add to your compost heap
  • To feed to pet birds, snakes, or rats
  • To study for a science project
  • To get your kids used to creepy-crawlies

Whether you set some time aside to go looking for worms or just happen to come across them when you’re digging your garden, you might want to scoop them up and take a closer look.


Where to find worms near your house

Worms can be found in virtually every habitat on Earth, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find some near your house.

They can live anywhere where there’s moist soil and dead plant material.

If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, then this is the perfect spot to search for worms. If you don’t have a yard, then you can look in public areas like woodlands, riverbanks, or beaches.

Worms aren’t protected so you don’t need any kind of permit or license to collect them, at least in the US.

The local laws may be different in other parts of the world. If you plan to look for worms on private property, you must always ask the landowner’s permission.


The best time to find worms

As worms like moist soil, they’re easiest to spot when the weather is wet, and they may even come right out onto the surface when it rains.

You can see worms all year round, but the best time to find them may be in the spring and autumn when the temperature is favorable. When the soil is warm and dry, or too cold, worms will bury themselves up to 16 feet underground.

Worms are nocturnal, preferring to stay hidden in their burrows in the daytime.

They feed at night so will be more active after dark, wriggling around near the surface to find composting plants to eat.


How to catch worms with your children

There are four different methods that you can use to catch worms:

  1. Digging for worms
  2. Lifting things to find worms underneath
  3. Attract worms at night
  4. Worm charming

Which method is best will depend on your location and how many worms you want to collect.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the methods for attracting and catching worms…

1. How to dig for worms

You will need:

  • A shovel or small spade
  • A container of soil
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Knee pads (optional)

Digging up the ground is the easiest way to find worms in the daytime.

You might choose to look for worms when you’re digging your garden to plant flowers or remove weeds, as you’re likely to come across plenty of worms as you turn over the soil.

As you scoop up the soil, sift through it and collect any worms that you find, take care not to accidentally cut any of them with your shovel!

If a worm is halfway out of the soil, don’t try to pull it out!

Worms have bristles called setae which they will use to cling to the soil. Instead, carefully dig around the worms to loosen the soil.

2. How to look for worms underneath things

You will need:

  • A container of soil
  • Gloves (optional)

Worms like to hide under objects like logs and large rocks which provide cozy and sheltered homes near the surface. If you lift up a big rock, you’ll likely find some worms right there.

For this method, you’ll need to be as quiet as possible so that your vibrations don’t spook the worms and cause them to burrow underground.

You should also take care when replacing heavy items so as not to crush your fingers or any bugs which may be hiding under there.

3. How to attract worms at night

You will need:

  • A large piece of cardboard
  • Water
  • Flashlight with a dull or red light
  • A container of soil
  • Gloves (optional)

If you’re able to hunt for worms at night, you can attract them to come to you. This is handy when you need a large number of worms, such as for a fishing trip.

To attract worms in your yard without having to dig, simply wet a large piece of cardboard and place it on your lawn at night. Leave it there for a few hours, then, when you lift it up, there should be lots of worms right there on the surface.

Worms shy away from light, so a flashlight with a dull or red light is better than a bright one.

You’ll have to work quickly because the worms will feel your vibrations and begin to wriggle back under the grass.

4. How to charm worms with vibrations

You will need:

  • A two-foot-long pointed wooden stake
  • A mallet
  • A handsaw
  • A container of soil
  • Gloves (optional)

Worm charming, also known as ‘worm grunting’ or ‘worm fiddling’ is a method of encouraging worms to the surface by using vibrations.

This works because the vibrations are similar to those produced by moles when they dig underground to look for earthworms to eat. When worms feel these vibrations they will naturally come to the surface to escape from their underground predators.

Many worm sellers who sell worms to fishermen to use as bait use worm charming to gather large numbers of worms.

To begin charming worms you’ll need to prepare your equipment by hammering the stake about halfway into the ground. Then, to recreate the vibrations of burrowing moles, run the blade of the saw over the top of the stake.

Be ready to grab the worms as they surface!


How to know what type of worm you found

A backyard anecic earthworm. Photo by pfly/Flickr

Once you’ve gathered your worms, it can be interesting to know exactly what kind of worms you found, since there are over 3,000 different kinds of earthworms in the world.

Earthworms fall into three main categories:

  1. Epigeic worms – Also known as compost worms, these live above the ground
  2. Endogeic worms – Also known as root dwelling worms, these live below the ground
  3. Anecic worms – Also known as earth-worker worms, these live below the ground but come above the ground to find food

Any worms that you find in your yard are most likely to be anecic worms that come up at night to search for leaves to eat.

Worms that usually live underground are often pale in color, whereas worms that live mostly on top of the soil, amongst piles of leaves, or on compost heaps are darker.

This dark pigmentation is useful for camouflage as well as protection from the UV rays of the sun.

Another difference between the different types of earthworms is the speed at which the worms move. Those that live above the surface are most at risk from predators, so they have stronger muscles which enables them to move more quickly.

The different species of earthworm

There are 182 species of earthworm in North America – 67% are native and 33% have been introduced from overseas.

Non-native worms can cause huge problems if they upset the balance of our eco-systems

If you’d like to figure out exactly which species of earthworm you’ve found, the best resource is this interactive guide.

You can tick boxes that correspond to features of your worm and it will show you a list of worms that match the description, along with photos.

Things to look for to identify earthworm species:

  1. Setal pattern – Most worms have eight small hairs (setae) on each segment which are usually arranged in pairs
  2. Prostomium shape – The prostomium is the nose of the worm
  3. Clitellum shape – The clitellum is a swollen section of the body of an adult worm

You might find this diagram to be helpful in identifying the different parts of a worm.


Kid-safe handling instructions for worms

Worms might be simple creatures, but it’s important to teach children to treat all living creatures with respect.

You should never intentionally harm a worm unless it’s to feed it to another animal as nature intended.

It’s perfectly safe to handle earthworms with your bare hands. However, you should ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards, especially before eating.

If you want to keep your worms for more than a few minutes, you’ll need to make sure that you prepare an environment where they can be stored safely and comfortably.

How to store worms responsibly

  • Keep worms in a moist, but not wet, environment
  • Worms should be kept cool and protected from sudden changes in temperature
  • Worms need a regular supply of food like decaying leaves, vegetable peel, mashed potato, moss, and egg shells
  • Keep different types of worms separately

Some countries may have laws that prohibit you from digging for worms or removing them from their natural habitat.

If you live outside of the US, be sure to research this to make sure that you’re legally allowed to handle worms where you live.


Fun facts about worms

Playing in the dirt and observing wriggly worms is a ton of fun!

But it’s easy to turn this backyard adventure into a science lesson with some of these fun facts.

  1. The average worm lives for five years
  2. Worms don’t have lungs – they breathe through their skin
  3. Worms have between 100 and 150 segments
  4. Worms can eat their own weight in food every day
  5. If a worm’s skin gets dry it will die
  6. Worms are hermaphrodites – this means that they have both male and female parts
  7. It’s not true that if you cut a worm in half then both ends will survive – the head end may survive but the tail end will certainly die
  8. Worms hatch out of a cocoon which is smaller than a grain of rice and looks like a tiny lemon

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re preparing for a fishing trip, digging up weeds in your flower beds, or are just curious, looking for worms can be a fun activity to enjoy with your kids.

Worms like moist soil, so for your best chance of finding some, try digging near water such as by a lake, river, or stream. Kids will certainly find it fun to go hunting for worms at night with the help of a wet piece of cardboard laid on your lawn.

Handing worms is good for kids as it teaches them to respect living creatures and not to fear them.

If you plan to keep your worms for any length of time, be sure to prepare a suitable environment and keep them well-fed.

And before you go, check out our guides for how to find slugs, how to find tadpoles, and how to find bird nests with the kids.

Hope this helps!

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