That wriggly creature dangling from a bird’s beak or off the end of a fish hook is what most people would call a worm. Many other animals also bear that name -- a silkworm is the larva of a moth and a heartworm is a parasitic nematode -- even though they are not related to those that we call worms (Annelidae). Predators, however, don’t care about scientific nomenclature. If it moves and looks appetizing, they eat it. Animals from many different groups prey on worms and wormlike creatures.
Perched in a tree or circling in the air, flying animals have a visual advantage when finding food. Birds are common predators of worms and insect larvae. Robins particularly favor earthworms and can easily detect them underground. Warblers and cuckoos, birds that spend most of their time in the tree canopy, feed on caterpillars like webworms and inchworms that eat tree leaves. Other flying animals also eat worms. Bats help farmers by eating millions of rootworms, corn earworms and cutworms. Flying insects including beetles and wasps prey on worms by either eating them or laying parasitic eggs on them.
Aquatic Worm-Eating Animals
Not all worms live on land. Aquatic worms (Oligochaetes) are related to earthworms and live near or in the sediment at the bottom of water bodies. Flatworms, horsehair worms, roundworms and wormlike leeches also occupy water habitats. Aquatic animals including fish, frogs, crayfish and turtles eat worms and similar creatures that live in water. Some insects such as dragonflies and dobsonflies live a portion of their lives underwater as nymphs. These predatory insects also eat aquatic worms.
Soil is a common habitat for worms. Animals that spend most of their time close to the ground, including insects, amphibians and reptiles, often feed on worms. Small lizards, salamanders and toads eat worms and wormlike insect larvae. Ground-crawling insects, particularly ground beetles, along with centipedes and flatworms, also prey on worms and similar creatures.
Several mammals consume worms and often make a mess of your property when they do. If you notice holes in your turf grass in the morning or small piles of soil, they are likely the result of worm- and grub-eating raccoons, skunks or moles. These animals dig through the soil and feed on protein-rich worms and wormlike grubs. Other mammals that prey on worms include mice, rats and foxes.
- Journey North: Sunlight and the Seasons -- Going Buggy! Insect-Eating Birds
- University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Field Station: Bug of the Week -- Fall Webworm
- Utah State University Extension: Utah Pests Factsheet -- Cankerworms
- University of Maryland Cooperative Extension: Got Bugs? Get Bats!
- Colorado State University Cooperative Extension: The Tomato Hornworms
- University of Minnesota: Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates of the Upper Midwest
- Michigan State University Museum: Care: Frogs, Toads and Salamanders
- Michigan State University Extension: Who’s That Digging in My Yard?
About the Author
Ms. Jean Godawa is a former science educator and freelance writer with a degree in biology and environmental science. She is fascinated by insects, and conducted field research in the rainforests of South America and South East Asia. She contributes science and nature articles to online and print publications including ONNature, Trellis and The Globe and Mail.