Rainy weather in April resulted in pooled water and wet soil conditions that allowed for the accumulation of small white worms in some strawberry and vegetable crop fields. Some field personnel considered these wriggling creatures to be nematodes or larvae of some kind. These worms are actually a type of “segmented worm” called an oligochaete and are close relatives of the earthworm. These small worms are visible without the use of magnifiers (Photo 1), are translucent white, and have bodies that are segmented (Photo 2) with external spines (called “chaeta”) on each segment (Photo 3). Oligochaetes are much larger than the parasitic nematodes that attack plants (Photo 4). Like earthworms, oligochaetes feed by ingesting sediment and soil particles and digesting nutrients from organic matter and bacteria. Oligochaetes may therefore be found in large numbers in wet soils containing organic substrates, rotting plant materials, and other food sources.
Photo 1. Oligochaetes are attracted to wet soil conditions and can be seen without magnification.
Photo 2. Oligochaetes are related to earthworms and have segmented bodies.
Photo 3. Each body segment of an oligochaete worm has external spines or “chaeta.”
Photo 4. Oligochaetes are much larger than plant parasitic nematodes. Shown here are two oligochaetes and one plant-feeding Aphelenchoides nematode (red arrow). The object at the bottom left is a single fiber from a paper towel (green arrow).