Red wiggler worms (Eisenia Foetida) start out as cocoons. Each cocoon contains between four and six baby worms. The worm cocoons are really small, typically about the size of a grape seed and will incubate for about twenty-three days. During incubation, the egg case will change from a golden yellow to a maroon colour. After about three to four weeks, the baby worms will hatch.
In the aftermath of the Great Bin Burnout, I dumped the contents of my worm bin into the big outdoor compost bin that had been largely abandoned and was suddenly used as a mass burial site for worms.
Yesterday, I was looking to replant one of the rogue tomato plants that springs up unexpectedly around our house and was trying to get some compost for the potting mix. As it turns out, there were some survivors in the compost bin and they have grown and, strangely, flourished. By digging around in the bottom, I found a mass of red wigglers and a tonne of cocoons in amongst the compost.
The Hatchery (pictured above) comes from me sorting through the compost and extracting the cocoons for transfer to one of the other worm bins. It is a large plastic dish with a damp paper towel placed in the bottom. The paper towel is used to keep the cocoons from drying out too much while they are waiting to be transferred from the holding dish into a larger bin.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realise that bowl was sitting in direct afternoon sunlight. I looked over, worried that I may have boiled eggs, and saw that three hatchlings had emerged!
I immediately shredded some handy newspaper, threw in an old banana, some compost and sprayed the whole thing with water.
This is the second time I have observed this behaviour. My theory is that cocoons exposed to heat encourages the worms to emerge. My only concern is that they are “premature” a bit, so they may need to be nursed through the next few days.
I had placed the Hatchery under a light to replicate the effect of the afternoon sun and it was about twenty five or thirty minutes that I saw another couple of births.
These two photos from the process are my favourite. I remember watching a YouTube video about red wigglers hatching where the presenter applied some gentle pressure on the end of the cocoon to encourage the worms inside to come out. Never one to shy away from a worm-based experiment, I used an old ice-cream stick to gently push down on the end, immediately forcing the first two of four worms from the cocoon. One more followed shortly after, and this straggler was soon hatched and crawling towards his new home. You can see the cocoon is almost empty and there is one straggler left in the cocoon to emerge.
Also, for those wondering about photographing cocoons. The above photos were taken on a Samsung Galaxy S5 using the built in camera software. The lighting was coming from an overhead lamp with a daylight bulb in it that doubles as great natural light for photography and encourages the new born worms to burrow into their new house.
The evidence from the second instance of my seeing this behaviour indicates that worm cocoons, close to hatching naturally, will hatch a lot faster when exposed to a heat source or bright light.
The Gentleman Vermiculturist can be found on Facebook and Instagram as well as other social media. He talks incessantly about worms.