What Are Nightcrawlers?
Nightcrawlers, also known as dew worms or garden worms, are large earthworms that can be found at night, especially after a rainstorm. Fish love them, making them a popular choice of bait among fishermen.
What's the Difference Between Earthworms and Nightcrawlers?
Earthworms—also called red wigglers—and nightcrawlers are often grouped into one category together—worms—but the two are actually very different. Nightcrawlers come out at night, when the grass is wet with dew, or after it rains, while earthworms are typically found in compost or under other debris.
Earthworms can grow up to an inch in length, and are widely used for worm composting because the casings they excrete are great fertilizer for gardens. The name red wiggler comes from their reddish-brown color.
Nightcrawlers are much bigger than earthworms. This makes it very easy to distinguish between the two worms. They're also more grey in color and can burrow as deep as six and a half feet into the soil.
Where Can You Find Nightcrawlers?
These slimy creatures love cool, damp weather. In the early spring or fall, they can normally be found stretched across the ground after it rains. It's much easier to spot them in areas where the grass is scarce or cut very low. Areas with tall grass, or leaves covering the ground, are not ideal places to look for nightcrawlers because they will go back into the ground the minute you move the grass or leaves.
Another great place to look for these little guys is on sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, roads, or other hard surfaces when it rains. They can feel the vibrations of the rain on the ground and will come up to enjoy the cool, moist air.
What Do Nightcrawlers Eat?
Dirt, but not in the way you might think. They feed off the nutrients that become present when things decay into the soil. Leaves, roots, fruits, vegetables, and other things that compost, all make great food for nightcrawlers. They can also be found munching on manure and dead animals.
Fun fact: they don't have teeth but they do have some pretty awesome muscles in their mouth. Those muscles allow them to pull leaves down into their holes, or burrows, where they will wait for the leaves to decay before eating them.
Why Do They Only Come Out of the Ground at Night?
Worms breathe through their skin. It's imperative for them to stay cool and moist in order to continue breathing. If they came out during the day the sun would dry them out and they would not be able to breathe. Crawling out of the safety of their underground home at night keeps the risks to a minimum. Plus, they are in the food chain just like everyone else, and they have fewer predators to worry about during the nighttime hours.
Do They Come Out When the Ground Is Wet Because They Might Drown?
Believe it or not, garden worms can survive underwater for long periods of time if the water has enough oxygen for them to breathe. They prefer to come out when it rains because of the humidity in the air, which helps them move around without the worry of drying out.
Do Worms Hybernate?
Kind of, yeah. The less fortunate worms will die if exposed to freezing temperatures, but many of them will travel safely below the frost line until spring. If an egg has not hatched before winter falls, it can survive the frigid temperatures and will hatch when it becomes warm again. They don't hibernate though; they enter a state called estivation, and in this state, they will curl up tightly and slow down their metabolism.
Should I Refridgerate My Nightcrawlers After I've Caught Them?
Nightcrawlers cannot live in extreme hot or cold temperatures. They thrive best in soil that's around 68 degrees F (20 C). Most refrigerators run anywhere between 32 and 40 degrees F (0-4 C), so that would be a bit too cold to keep them if you want them reproducing. However, they may go into their "hibernation" when in the fridge and can survive for a short amount of time if you're just keeping them alive to use as bait.
Do I Need to Keep Nightcrawlers in Dirt?
I suppose they would survive in a container without dirt, but they wouldn't be very comfortable. Sure, you're going to put them on a hook eventually, but you should still be as humane as possible in the meantime. Worms can be kept in containers filled with all sorts of things. Wet leaves, soggy paper, moist cardboard, soil, moss, or anything that can be kept damp is ideal for worm bedding.
Questions & Answers
Question: How long do nightcrawlers live?
Answer: In perfect conditions, nightcrawlers can live up to ten years. This is assuming they have plenty of food, the right amount of moisture in the soil, and regulated temperatures.
The most common ways for worms to die is predators, lack of food, and too little/too much moisture. Worms need to remain moist to breathe, but too much water could drown them. Finding the correct balance can be hard.
Not all night crawlers can survive in cold temperatures. Canadian nightcrawlers must be kept cold while Euro night crawlers thrive in warmer conditions.
As long as you regulate their temperature, soil moisture, and food, they should survive for years.
Question: How do you kill nightcrawlers in your lawn?
Answer: Most people enjoy the benefits that nightcrawlers have on their yard. They help aerate the soil, and their castings are a natural fertilizer. If earthworms are present, you know you have good, fertile soil. However, the castings that worms leave behind on the surface can be a problem for someone who takes great pride in a perfect lawn.
One of the easiest ways to reduce this problem is to water your lawn less. If the top 1-2 inches of soil is allowed to dry out a bit, worms will avoid that area. They need to stay moist to breathe and so they will burrow down further where the moisture is.
If you live in a naturally wet climate, or have experienced more rain than normal lately, you can rake the castings up. Sometimes the abundance of castings can cause a lawn to yellow in spots because there is too much fertilizer. Raking the castings away before they cause damage could help tremendously.
If you truly have too many worms in your lawn, and you need to remove them, electrical prods might be an agreeable solution. It will bring the worms to the surface so you can pick them up and relocate them, but it shouldn’t harm your lawn.
© 2018 Meagan Ireland
Meagan Ireland (author) from Maine on July 06, 2020:
It can become harder to see them when the grass grows thicker. This time of year I either have to go out while it's raining or right after the rain because otherwise they hear you before you see them.
Sharon on July 03, 2020:
We had an abundance of night crawlers but they aren’t coming out any more with plenty of rainfall
Meagan Ireland (author) from Maine on June 08, 2020:
It is weird for an abundance of crawlers to be out if it's not raining. Perhaps there is something bothering them. Moles will cause them to come to the surface or other tunneling animals. Vibrations in the ground ECT. It might be moisture, but they typically go deeper.
cmfLori on June 06, 2020:
i have a question for you, lately the nightcrawlers have been trying to cross the driveway to get to the other side. There is grass on either side. The sprinklers have been off for a couple days. Are they trying to get to the other side for moisture?.
May sound silly but i grew up in a small town and am not squeamish over things. when it's raining i move any worm out of the way, as to not get squished.
Anyways i have been going out at night and have been grabbing them and putting them on the other side, even though it isn't moist over there either.
Some i have been placing over where the sprinkler is going..
Am i doing the right thing?
Meagan Ireland (author) from Maine on May 06, 2020:
So, in order to understand why this happens, you first need to know more about how a worm is built.
Nightcrawlers are very muscular. They have both circular muscles and long muscles. A worms body is segmented and each segment has setae to help them move.
Well, I say each segment but the head and butt don't have them.
Basically, a worm moves using these muscles. It anchors its back segments with the setae, and uses its muscles to push its body forward. Then it uses its front setae to grab the ground and contracts again to shorten its body, which moves its hind part forward.
So, this is one of the reasons they stretch ... to move. Sometimes you'll see a nightcrawler completely out of the ground. This typically happens when it rains because they have to breathe and the ground is too wet.
However, most of the time you'll find worms stretched along the ground with their hind part still in the ground.
I don't know exactly why they do this except I imagine it's a survival method. In that position, the worm is able to quickly (and I do mean quickly) pull itself back into the safety of its hole.
Being able to stretch so far, while still having the option to retreat quickly, is an advantage because it allows the worm to look for food and mate on the surface while still remaining relatively safe.
I don't know if that was the answer you were looking for, but I hope it helped!
Bill on May 06, 2020:
Why do nightcrawlers stretch to at least twice their normal length?
Meagan Ireland (author) from Maine on April 13, 2018:
Your welcome! It's always fun to relive the good ones :)!
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 13, 2018:
An interesting read, Meagan. I remember when I was in my teen and we would go to a local golf course at night and get a lot of nightcrawlers. You brought back one of those memories that I haven't thought of in years. Thank you for that.