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Earthworm Reproduction

A Quick Guide to Earthworm Reproduction

Earthworm reproduction is a lot more complicated than anyone might suspect. Especially since earthworms are hermaphrodites. A hermaphrodite possesses the ability to produce both male and female cells, meaning they produce both sperm and eggs. Usually, an animal which is a hermaphrodite, is able to reproduce within themselves, without the need of assistance from others.

But earthworm production is quite different. Even though an earthworm has male and female sex organs, they need another worm to reproduce. When two earthworms do mate they release sperm to one another. Each earthworm actually has two sperm receptacles, so each receives two exchanges of sperms.

Temperatures must be just right for earthworm reproduction. The ideal is around fifty-five degrees, allowing earthworms to mate in the spring or fall. Earthworms cannot see or hear but know that another worm is present by ground vibrations. Sometimes they literally bump into one another. Very often worms live beside one another in burrows so another worm is often close by.

Usually mating in earthworms happens after a rain when the ground surface is wet. While some worms do travel to find one another, others simply stick their behinds, or anterior portions, out of their burrows. Mating is accomplished through the joining of this portion of their bodies, which remains connected while the earthworm’s heads are pointed in opposing directions.

If you are finicky about worms, you will probably not be impressed by the amount of mucous needed for earthworm reproduction. Each worm releases mucous until a slimy tube is created. When sperm is released, it travels back into this tube until it reaches the sperm receptacles. Each contains a sac where the sperm is stored. Once the transfer of sperm has been made and the sacs are full, each earthworm goes back to his burrow. The process of egg fertilization takes place later. The entire process of sperm transfer can take over two hours.

Mucous is also the propelling force when eggs and sperm are united. The sexual openings are located in a glandular space named the clitellum. As it comes time for the laying of eggs, this gland produces a ring of mucous. This ring literally moves over the body of the worm. It goes past the oviducts and collects eggs which are in a special fluid, known as albumen. Then the mucous passes over the sperm receptacles and the sperm are released.

This mucous is the place where the eggs are fertilized. It slides off the rear end of the worm and each end is then closed to make a small cocoon to protect the eggs. This cocoon of eggs is dropped into the soil. The eggs which are now fertilized develop into baby worms inside the cocoon. The young eat the albumen to gain nourishment in the same way other animals get milk from their mothers. Earthworms grow quickly and when they are large enough and the environmental conditions are right, they will break out of the cocoon.

Earthworm reproduction can take around sixty days but it is not a sure thing. For the cocoon to open, there has to be the presence of just the right amount of a certain bacteria in the soil. If this is not present, no eggs will hatch and the cocoon will just become dormant. If there is no chance of survival, the young worms will simply not emerge.

These cocoons are deposited well below frost line so that the ground will be warmer. Once the baby earthworm have emerged, it will take anywhere from two to four years for them to grow to adult sexual maturity and reproduce on their own.


 

 


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