Do Worms Eat Food Material Or Microbes?

“Does E.fetida actually consume finely ground compost, or does it only consume the microbes consuming the compost?  Purina markets a “worm chow” which appears to be a grain-based product in a cornmeal consistancy. Do the worms consume this chow directly, or do they consume the microbes feeding on it? 

In my raised wormbeds, I utilize a bedding of shredded newspaper, lightened with sphagnum peat, and top-feed the worms sifted aged horse manure mixed with worm chow, 3:1.  The worms seem to love this food mixture, forming writhing rings of worms around the periphery of the food deposits. Thanks” ~ Geordie

Hi Geordie,

That’s a really good question, and reminds me that I should have explained the microbes-as-food concept in a little more detail. While there is little doubt that worms do indeed rely on communities of microorganisms for much of their nutrition – many researchers have agreed on this – it’s not so much that they are simply sucking of the microbes from the surface of the food.

If this were the case the food material wouldn’t be disappearing so quickly. Obviously when they graze on the microbes it is inevitable that some of the food material itself is also going to end up in the worms gut and presumably contribute to the worm’s overall nutrition.

The microbes are really the organisms responsible for the chemical break down of the waste – what we refer to as ‘rotting’. The worms on the other hand help to physically break up the material, essentially exposing even more surface area for additional microbial break down.

Once the food particles are inside the worm’s digestive system there are a whole other array of microbes helping to break down the materials even further, and of course helping the worms to derive nutrition from them.

While it may seem like the worms are simply munching away on the worm chow itself, you may notice that there is a bit of lag time before you see the writhing mass of worms near the material.

Once the chow absorbs some moisture microbial colonization will occur very quickly, especially when sitting on top of (or in) a worm bed. Again, the worms will of course fragment and consume the chow, but the microbes are still an important component.

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