About the On-line Taxonomic
Using our on-line identification key is quite simple. Before you
begin identifying your earthworms, you may want to download a hard
copy of our General Earthworm Diagram.
This diagram highlights all the physical features you°ll need to
correctly identify your earthworms.
Each screen will display several choices regarding a specific
earthworm characteristic (i.e. colour). Take a look at each illustration
and select the one that best matches your earthworm by clicking
on the appropriate text or illustration. This will automatically
take you to the next characteristic. Continue this process until
you identify your earthworm.
Remember to focus on patterns, rather than picky little details.Each
final identification will be accompanied by a complete description
of this earthworm°s habitat and distribution. If you are unable
to identify your earthworm using our key, send us a representative
sample of your unknown earthworm, and we will be happy to identify
**PLEASE REMEMBER THAT YOU CAN ONLY IDENTIFY ADULT EARTHWORMS,
WHICH HAVE A CLITELLUM!!!
This on-line tutorial will teach you how to use the identification
key to classify your earthworms. So grab your earthworms, roll up
your sleeves and get ready to have fun while learning about earthworm
taxonomy (the classification of earthworms)!
Will I be able to identify all the earthworms I find?
No. You will only be able to identify adult earthworms. Cocoons and
juvenile earthworms can be identified, but it requires a trained eye
and specialized equipment.
Adults can be identified with the naked eye, and are easily recognized
by the well defined clitellum located close to the head of the earthworm.
The clitellum is normally greyish-white, but it can also be bright
orange within the same species. The bright orange colour indicates
that the earthworm is in heat, and does not mean that this is a
different species of earthworm.
Are there any tips I need to know before I start identifying
The key you will be using is organised as a flow chart. It starts
with very basic characteristics and becomes more specific at each
level. As you move down one branch of the flow chart, you will be
eliminating earthworms and will be left with only a few earthworms
to pick from.
Before you begin the identification process, there are few important
things that you should keep in mind. First of all, make sure your
hands are moist and free of soap or lotion as these can irritate earthworms,
and make them difficult to handle. It°s a good idea to keep a spray
bottle of water around to moisten the earthworm and your hands when
they become dry. Secondly, when you are looking for certain physical
characteristics on your earthworm, look for patterns and not small
How do I start identifying my earthworm?
To start identifying your earthworm, scroll down the page and
select Start On-line Key.
The first characteristic you°ll be asked to look at is body size.
In order to determine the length of your earthworm, you may want
to download a copy of our General
Earthworm Diagram. This diagram will not only help you determine
the length of your earthworm, but it also illustrates any other
physical characteristics that you may require during the identification
process. To determine the length of your earthworm, allow the worm
to freely extend himself as though he were crawling. Never try to
stretch out the worm yourself as this can seriously harm the earthworm.
Select and click on the size that best matches your earthworm. This
will take you to the next characteristic.
The second characteristic you°ll encounter is colour. When determining
the colour of an earthworm, make sure that you are looking at the
dorsal side (back side) of the earthworm. The ventral side of most
earthworms is colourless, and thus cannot be used in identification.
Pay particular attention to the colour between the head and the
clitellum. This is where the majority of an earthworm°s pigmentation
occurs. Though most earthworms have a solid coloration, some are
|Dorsal view of an earthworm showing the (1) clitellum
and (2) segments
In our key, Eisenia foetida is the only striped species.
It has red segments, and yellow intersegmental furrows.
Therefore, if you come across a striped earthworm,
you likely have this species. It is wise however, to go through the
key, even if you suspect a particular species. By going through the
key, you°ll not only confirm your identification, but you°ll discover
if your earthworm has any unusual characteristics, which might indicate
a new species.Once you°ve determined its colour, select the colour
that matches your earthworm and proceed to the following characteristic.
How do I identify the TP and GT of my earthworm?
In general, the third characteristic you°ll encounter are the
earthworm°s tubercula pubertatis (TP) and the genital tumescence
(GT). These are very important taxonomic traits. They are located
on the ventral side of the clitellum. While examining these characteristics,
pay close attention to the patterns they form, rather than focusing
on small details. It is not necessary to determine which segment
they fall on.What is important is determining whether or not they
are on alternating segments, or are they on consecutive segments.
Are all the GT located inside the clitellum, or are some found outside
the clitellum? Are the TP shaped like triangles or bars? Do the
TPrun the length of the clitellum or are they shorter than the clitellum?
||GT stuck on
What else do I need to know before I begin?
So far, we°ve highlighted the most challenging steps of the identification
process. You will encounter other traits not mentioned here, but
don°t panic. The key is fully illustrated and contains great descriptions
of the sought after trait. You can also click on the highlighted
words to take you to the glossary, should you forget what a word
means. If you are unable to identify your earthworm, fill out the
database and send in a representative sample of the unknown earthworm.
For information on how to preserve and package earthworms, click
on the button from the Key Menu.
Well that°s it! You now know everything you need to know to start
identifying your earthworms and use our on-line key. Remember that
on-line help is always at your finger tips via e-mail. So good luck
and happy worming!!! Downloadable Key
Start On-line Key