National Sampling Protocol 2 – Modified Hand-Sorting

Equipment you will need

  • clothes and shoes that can get dirty
  • a partner(s)
  • a spade or shovel (square ended works best)
  • soil thermometer* (optional)
  • 2 plastic sheets or large garbage bags
  • 2 well rinsed plastic containers (yogurt, margarine or cottage cheese containers work best)
  • WormWatch data sheets
  • pencil/pens
  • the taxonomic key to adult earthworms (downloadable Taxonomic Key)
  • clipboard
  • a camera (optional)

*Note: do not use glass thermometers because they will break when you push them into soil.

Modified Hand-Sorting Protocol

  1. Place the plastic sheet on the ground in a convenient place near where you are digging and get your containers out, if there is a lot of litter (dead leaves, dried grass etc.) on the surface then sort through the surface material first. Look under the bark on twigs, and through the leaves and grass, you might find surface or litter dwelling earthworms. Often these earthworms deposit their cocoons in the surface litter so watch for them too. Put the earthworms and cocoons in a container and count how many earthworms and cocoons were found and record the numbers on the Observation form.
  2. Now dig down and scoop out the soil carefully and flip the soil chunk onto the plastic sheet. Hand-sort the soil from the hole. To hand-sort, grab a handful of soil, gently break up the soil clumps, and look for any worms or cocoons. Most often you will find earthworms in the middle of moist clumps of soil. You may find several different sizes of earthworms, put the adults, juveniles and cocoons in separate containers with some of the soil to prevent the worms from drying out. Sometimes inside clumps of soil you will find earthworms coiled into a knot, these worms are aestivating, which means they are in a resting phase until the soil conditions are more favourable. Aestivating earthworms are smaller and pinker than regular active earthworms. You can count the aestivating earthworms, but they cannot be identified. If you find any aestivating earthworms, put a check mark under ‘present’ on the Observation form.
  3. Count the earthworms and cocoons in each container and record the numbers on the Observation Form. Put the juveniles, cocoons and aestivating earthworms (if any) back in the soil. Keep your adults to identify by using the key and following the instructions provided on the web site.
  4. Record the species, number of adults, number of juveniles (if any) and number of cocoons (if any) on your Observation Form. If you do not find any earthworms, that’s important information too!
  5. After you have identified your adults, return all earthworms to the soil or place you found them and put all the rocks and litter back the way you found it.
  6. If you have found an earthworm that you cannot identify, follow the instructions for earthworm identification verification on the website.