Haplotaxida Click to enlarge image
Earthworms (class Oligochaeta, order Haplotaxida) Image: Andrew Howells
© Australian Museum

What do earthworms look like?


  • 6 mm - 3000 mm in length.


  • Elongated, with many segments.
  • Appears soft.


  • Absent.


  • Absent.


  • Opening for siphoning food items.


  • Absent.


  • None.

Body tip:

  • Cerci (tail-like appendages) absent.

Where are earthworms found?

  • In many habitats but the majority occupy moist well-vegetated regions.
  • In soil, leaf litter, and under rocks and logs.
  • Some are associated with water environments such as freshwater mud and saltwater shorelines.

What do earthworms do?

  • Earthworms are solitary, though they may group together to feed and/or mate.
  • When disturbed they recoil, withdraw into burrows, jump and thrash about, drop tail segments, or exude body fluids some of which are noxious.
  • They feed on dead or decaying animal and plant material. Earthworms that operate in soils ingest vast volumes of soil particles with organic matter.
  • Earthworms discarded waste products as castings, trails of well-digested organic material. This material maybe discarded on the soil surface, an indicator of earthworms being present.
  • Some form burrows, which they exit from to grab food items.
  • They are active during the day or night.

What looks similar?

  • Leeches can be distinguished from earthworms as they have a large sucker at end of their body, which they use to feed and move. They are also all external parasites feeding on body fluids of hosts.