Department of Environmental Conservation

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Worms (Oligochaeta)

General Information about Worms (Oligochaeta)
Life history Aquatic worms have a life span between several weeks to years. Aquatic worms reproduce sexually or by dividing their bodies. Mating usually occurs in the late summer to early fall.
Diversity There are about 10 different families of aquatic worms in North America.
Body is soft, cylindrical, and long. The body is divided into many segments (usually 40-200). No suckers or eye spots are present.
Habitat & Feeding Aquatic worms live in lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands. Aquatic worms are detritivores (eat decomposing plant and animal material), algivores (eat algae), and predators.
Water quality indicator status Some aquatic worms are very tolerant of pollution (long red ones) while others are very pollution sensitive. The presence of high numbers of pollution tolerant worms at a site may indicate polluted conditions.
Fun facts
  • Some kinds of aquatic worms under certain conditions can reach densities of 8,000 worms per square meter.
  • Some kinds of aquatic worms feed with their heads buried in the ground and their tails sticking out.