As a young boy I fell in love with fishing. My brothers and I were constantly on the lookout for red wigglers for bait, so I tried to keep worms as pets in a wooden box under the front porch to have them readily available.
Can you have a worm as a pet? Yes. Worms make great pets.
My first attempt failed, but several years later as an adult, I tried again, and before long I had more worms than I knew what to do with.
Want to keep worms as pets? In this article I outline how to keep your own Red Wigglers, African Nightcrawlers, or Canadian Nightcrawlers at home.
Why Keep Red Wigglers as Pets?
Red wiggler compost worms will reduce 10 pounds of food scraps and paper products into approximately 3 pounds of worm castings.
They are intriguing, interesting, and a treat to keep while helping the environment. Keeping red wiggler worms helps reduce land fill waste, and as a side benefit, will improve growth for potted plants, flower beds, and gardens.
What Do Worms Eat?
Worms discussed in this article are happy eating table scraps, dried leaves, coconut coir, and your old, discarded newspapers.
Some vermiculturists have experimented with a variety of food sources, but for beginners sticking with the tried-and-true vegetables, non-citrus fruits, coconut coir, sheets of paper towels, computer paper, and shredded newspapers provide the best starting point. All vegetable scraps and selected fruits (all varieties of apples, peaches, and mangoes) have worked well in our personal worm composting bins.
How Much Do Worms Cost?
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to keep worms as pets. The price for a pound of worms range between $25 and $35 depending on the source. Red wigglers are raised by local vermiculturists across the country. Sometimes gardening enthusiasts will offer free worms, or at a minimal cost, to other gardeners.
Worm castings are valuable and desired by gardeners around the world. The castings have valuable nutrients that help plants excel, sometimes without the need for commercial fertilizers.
Where Do I Keep Worms as Pets?
Worms are housed in bins and typically kept indoors out of the elements and away from worm predators.
Two plastic totes make a good homemade worm bin. The first tote (top) holds the worms, and second tote (bottom) holds the leachate (i.e., the liquid remaining after the vermicomposting process).
The 10-gallon (or larger) tote design as a worm bin works very well. You can make one by drilling holes in the top tote with an electric drill. Place some 1-inch blocks in the second tote and then place the first tote (top) in the second tote (bottom) using the blocks as spacers to hold up the weight.
Cut a 6-inch x 12-inch rectangle in the lid from one tote. Cover the hole from the bottom side with screen using a stapler to secure the screen. As a second option: Drill larger holes in the lid from one tote to cover ¾ of the lid area.
Use an old cotton t-shirt or old dish towel to cover the bedding in the worm bin. This will help keep insects and occasional odors from escaping from the worm bin into the surrounding area. With practice, chances of occurrence reduce dramatically.
Careful management of worm food and bedding added to the bin will reduce the chances of the bin becoming anaerobic, harming the worms, or creating unwanted odors.
Keeping a single worm isn’t that practical but would be theoretically possible. Starting with 10 -15 worms at minimum would make the process more interesting. A single worm would not be visible in the worm bin unless you sift through the bedding.
The 10-gallon tote will accommodate 500-1,000 individual worms as pets (½ – 1 pound, respectively).
Commercially Available Worm Bins
If you are not a do-it-yourself type, commercially available worm bins are also available. We have used worm towers to house our red wiggler worms in the past. Here’s an example of a plastic stacking worm bin used to keep worms as pets.
Best Worms to Keep as Pets
Some worms will do better as pets than others.
Types of pet worms:
- Red wiggler compost worms (scientific name: Eisenia fetida)
- Redworm (scientific name: Lumbricus rubellus)
- African Nightcrawlers (scientific name: Eudrilus eugeniae)
- Canadian Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris)
Red wiggler and redworm worms are common to vermiculture and widely available in the United States. African Nightcrawlers are lesser known, but thrive in warm weather climates and Canadian Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) are very popular with fishermen.
How to Keep Red Wigglers and Red Worms
After preparing your worm bin, add the base worm bedding (coconut coir works very well), add your chosen worms, add shredded newspaper, and vegetable or fruit scraps to the mix. Then let the worms do their work. Check in on them every day or two to ensure the bin is not too wet or too dry.
- If to wet add more shredded newspaper or coir.
- If too dry, add more vegetable or fruit scraps.
- The worm bin remains in balance with proper management.
- If it starts to smell, then it’s out of balance and needs attention.
Place the totes in a dark closet or corner of a dark basement for storage. Don’t use a clothes closet. The worm bin might give off occasional odors if not well maintained and the clothing could pick up this odor. If this does happen to you, wash/launder/dry-clean the clothes as normal and everything will be swell.
Since worm bins naturally heat up from the composting reaction, limit vegetables and fruits added to the bedding until you get a feeling for how much they can process at one time.
Rule of Thumb: Start with 1 cup of vegetables / fruits in a brand-new worm bin. Only add new vegetables / fruits when you see at least half of what you previously added completely composed by the worms (i.e., turned into vermicompost).
Keeping a light on near the worm bin will also help with the tendency to crawl away during the night.
What Worms Make the Best Pets?
Red wigglers make the best option to keep worms as pets for beginners. They compost well. They accept a wide range of bin conditions and will tolerate some below average conditions for short periods of time where other worms will waive the white flag and flee the bin.
Red wigglers are the work horses of the vermiculture world, but other worm species are used successfully depending on the geographic location and local climate.
I have successfully composted with African Nightcrawlers and Canadian Nightcrawlers.
How to Keep African Nightcrawlers as Pets
After keeping these worms for a few years we noticed that they are more particular about the conditions of their worm bin than the typical red wiggler worms. They like the bin to remain warmer and a little drier.
If the conditions are not up to their standards, they tend to wander away from the bin. True to their name, this crawling usually occurs at night. After first adding African Nightcrawlers to a new worm bin, it is helpful to keep a light on near the worm bin to keep them down in the bedding. This helps them resist the urge to flee. It is in their name after all, so it is not really fair to blame the worms.
As vermiculturists we need to understand the African Nightcrawler needs and desired conditions to keep them happily composting inside the worm bin.
How to Keep Canadian Nightcrawlers as Pets
In our experience keeping Canadian Nightcrawlers offers similar challenges to their African Nightcrawler counterparts. As their name indicates, they like cooler temperatures in the worm bin. They do not tolerate heat well, at all.
Canadian Nightcrawlers like to be cook so much that bait stores usually store them in a refrigerator. To keep them at home, a cool basement works well.
I hope you are beginning to see the possibilities to keep worms as pets.
- Good for small spaces
- Multiply quickly in the right conditions
- Are great to share with gardeners
Worms can’t fetch like dogs, purr like cats, or talk like parrots but if you want a quiet pet that helps reduce landfill waste, greenhouse gases, and help you grow a wonderful kitchen garden, worms are a great option!
African Nightcrawlers and Canada Nightcrawlers have the speed advantage, but Red Wigglers or Red Worms stay put and stay home at night.
A quick Google search will reveal plenty of pet worms for sale from growers, drop shippers, and a variety of other vendors. Worms will ship well via mail in a priority box via U.S. Mail. Vendors may hold shipments until Mondays to ensure they arrive to you timely and don’t set in a mail room or warehouse over the weekend.
If keeping worms as pets isn’t your cup of tea, consider our article about pets for small apartments.