European Nightcrawler Cocoons
Some refer to them as worm eggs, but what you see is the cocoon that contains the eggs. Looking at a cocoon gives no indication of how many eggs it contains.
Purchasing European Nightcrawler cocoons, hatching them and growing your own worms, greatly reduces the cost of the worms… but is not a quick procedure.
To get a European Nightcrawler from its cocoon to fully grown can take in excess of 6 months. This is why they are an expensive worm compared to many other worm species.
European Nightcrawler cocoons contain no more than 2 eggs (some species of worms can have 6 or more eggs in a cocoon). Only 30% of Euro cocoons will hatch 2 worms, most will only hatch 1 worm.
Things to know about hatching worm cocoons
When you purchase cocoons, you have no way of knowing how close they are to hatching.
- Some may already have hatched when you receive them
- They may not hatch for another 2 months
Cocoons change from transparent to a frosted appearance and become softer as they get closer to hatching.
Cocoons can lay dormant for a year or more, waiting for the right conditions to hatch. Those conditions may include:
- moisture level of the bedding
- the bedding type
At Worms Alive, we never let the worm environments drop below 12 degrees. Anything below 5 degrees will cause worms and cocoons to become dormant (the worms will enter hibernation & the cocoons will not hatch).
Higher temperatures (in excess of 30°) will also be problematic.
Bedding for your cocoons
The bedding that your cocoons arrive in will be primarily sugarcane mulch. This mulch contains minimal food for the potential hatchlings, so will need to be mixed with better bedding. The best bedding is aged horse manure (over 28 days old), with the right amount of moisture in it…
Grab a handful or manure and squeeze it… only one or two drops of water should fall.
Horse manure bedding is likely to encourage the cocoons to hatch quicker as it is very food rich.
If you have no access to horse manure, sheep or cow manure can be used, or a good quality organic compost. As compost contains less food than manure, after the hatchlings appear and have increased in size their diet will need to be supplemented. This food supplement can be in the form of Worms Alive worm food, or food scraps. A comprehensive guide to feeding food scraps to worms is available here.
Any manure that you use must be aged at least 28 days, and be sure that the animals that produced the manure have not recently received any worming medication. It’s a good idea to wash the manure to remove any urine, as urine increases the acidity of the bedding. After washing, the manure should dried completely before using it… store the manure dry, and only moisten it when you are about to use it.
The manure needs to be an even consistency and not lumpy. While it is dry (or very close to dry) it needs to be grated to break down the lumps. I use a steel rack to grate it… or you can briskly rub it between your hands while wearing heavy duty rubber gloves (but the grate does a better job and is much easier). Getting the bedding the correct consistency is vital as will allow the bedding to have a consistent moisture level throughout, allowing the hatchlings/worms to access all of the bedding easily.
After the cocoons hatch
When the hatchlings appear, a worm blanket should be laid on top of the bedding. The best blanket is unprinted cardboard or butcher’s paper. drop it in water for a minute, let he excess water drip off, lay it on top of the bedding. The worms prefer to lay between the bedding and the blanket, especially when they start breeding.
The worms will start eating the cardboard/paper and this is perfectly okay. If they do, this can be an indication that the bedding may be low in food. Or sometimes they just like to eat it even if the bedding is still food rich (this is why you use clean, unprinted cardboard, so the worms don’t eat the print dye).
If you have good quality horse manure, no other food will be required until the bedding has been converted to castings. At this point, you should move them to new bedding… or continue to add new bedding on top. They will move up to the new bedding that contains food. Never mix new bedding into the castings, always layer it on the top.
When the worms have grown to only one quarter of their full size, they may start breeding. Some worms mature while they are still quite small. You will know they are breeding as you will see them coupling with each other.
Surface area is king
When selecting a tub to put the bedding in for your cocoons, remember that surface area is king.
Worms need no more than 7 to 10 cm deep bedding. So a low 30 to 40 litre tub with a lid is perfect. Drill some holes in the lid for air. The lid helps to maintain a moist environment, stopping the bedding from drying to too fast. Check the bedding regularly for moisture content. No tub drainage is required if you maintain good bedding moisture.