Tubifex Worms (Tubifex tubifex)

Tubifex worms

Tubifex worms, also known as Tubifex tubifex, sludge worm, sewage worm, or boogie worm, are segmented worms that live in clean freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams, feeding off of algae and detritus that settle on the bottom of bodies of water.

The worms are used as fish food in aquaculture operations around the world because they provide an excellent source of protein for fish without competing with the fish for other food sources.

They are small invertebrate creatures that are found all over the world. The name tubifex tubifex comes from the Latin word tubus which means tube, because of their tube-like appearance. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, originating approximately 250 million years ago.

Tubifex worms (Tubifex tubifex) have been used as bait by fishermen throughout Europe, Asia, and North America since the early 1900s. These worms prefer to burrow into the mud at the bottom of still water sources and don’t swim well at all due to their lack of buoyancy.

What are tubifex worms?

Tubifex worms

Tubifex worm is a species of tubificid segmented worm, also known as Tubifex tubifex, sludge worm, sewage worm, or boogie worm. It lives in sediments in rivers and lakes worldwide.

Although Tubifex probably contains a number of species, it is difficult to separate them due to the resorption of reproductive organs that are commonly used for species identification, and the subtle changes in external features associated with salinity levels. This worm ingests sediment, digests bacteria selectively, and absorbs molecules through its walls.

Scientific name

The scientific name of tubifex worm is Tubifex tubifex


It is not uncommon to find tubificid worms in sewer systems and other aquatic habitats. They are usually found in serene waters filled with silt and decaying organic matter. Organic pollutants and low dissolved oxygen levels are tolerated by many people. Thus, they may indicate that the water quality is poor.

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Stream ecologists have a clue that something in the stream system might be out of balance when they find them in their collections. In areas where tubificid worms are numerous, the sediment can become reddish when covered by them. Other objects, including submerged plants, can attract them. It is possible for them to rise to the surface when oxygen levels are very low.

How quickly do tubifex worms grow?

Tubifex worms grow very fast (around 7.5 mg in just 42 days) on a substrate that contains 25% of fine sand and 75% of cow dung. The culture system needs 250 ml of water per minute to maintain 3 mg of oxygen per minute.


Known for their slender segments, tubifex worms can reach a length of 20 cm (7.9 inches). In each body segment, there are upper and lower bundles of chitinous bristles (setae), which can range in number from 34 to 120, which are used for burrowing.

What do tubifex worms eat?

Organic materials decomposing on the substrate are a common food source for tubifex worms and their relatives. The rest of their bodies extend upward in the water, while they burrow their heads into small tubes in the sediment.

Tubeficid worms exchange gases directly with the skin, while their mouths consume organic matter from the substrate, excreting waste into the water. This is how they turn over sediments much as earthworms do.

Tubifex worms life cycle

Tubifex worms

Tubificid worms have hermaphrodite sexual characteristics. As individuals produce both sperm and eggs, they fertilize one another’s eggs during mating. In mature tubificids, a clitellum may look like a ring or saddle near the front of the body (the same structure is found in earthworms).

Clitellums surround approximately two or three body segments, including those that bear eggs and sperm, and they secrete mucus cocoons that protect fertilized eggs. A larval stage does not exist; the young are simply immature and small. As they grow, new segments form just before the rearmost segment, which increases their length.

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Copulation and cocoon formation in tubifex worms

In spite of the fact that Tubifex worms are hermaphrodites, their male and female sexual organs mature at different times; they cannot self-fertilize and must rely on cross-fertilization to survive. In order to copulate, Tubifex worms join their ventral and anterior surfaces together with their anterior ends pointing in opposite directions.

As a result, each worm has a spermathecal opening closer to its male aperture, allowing its penial setae to penetrate and adhere to that of its partner. A worm’s sperm enters another worm’s spermatheca during this stage. After copulation, the worms separate and produce egg cases, or cocoons, containing eggs.

Around the clitellum, a cocoon develops as a soft, box-like structure in which the eggs and sperm are deposited. The backward wriggling movements of the Tubifex worm cause it to wiggle its way backward out of its egg case.

Tubifex worms culture

Commercially raised tubifex worms are primarily used as fish food. It is easy to culture tubifex worms on a mass scale by mixing decaying vegetable matter with masses of bran and bread and 50 to 75 mm thick pond mud on the bottom. An appropriate drainage system is required to maintain a continuous, mild water flow in the container.

Following the system setup, mud canals or sewage canals near the container can be used to inoculate it with Tubifex worms. A cluster of worms develops within 15 days and can be removed with mud in mass quantities. To remove residual mud attached to the bodies of worms, they are collected when they come to the surface due to low oxygen levels.

Tubifex as a live food

Tubifex worms

Fish, especially tropical fish and certain freshwater species, often feed on tubifex worms as live food. They have been a popular food for aquarium traders since almost the start of the trade and catching them out of open sewers was popular until recently. Now, most come from either commercial effluent from fish hatcheries, or from professionally maintained worm farms.

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As a live food, these worms have come with a few problems over the years. When obtained from sewers, bodies of water, and hatcheries, they may be infected with various diseases. In order to reduce this risk, keep the worms under brisk running water until their digestive systems are empty.

However, the worms can still spread whirling disease to fish, which in turn can infect salmonids. Furthermore, it is difficult for some fish to locate them, which is why fish such as Rift Valley cichlids will become desperate and overly consume them till they are sick of it.

In addition, the worms contain good-quality proteins, but they are very fattening and lack certain essential amino acids. It can take some time, but in general fish with a balanced diet are healthier, prettier, and less prone to pests than ones with poor diets. When well-cleaned, aquariums aren’t even home to Tubifex – it’s just those aquariums with poor maintenance and sludge.

Insect-based fish food like bloodworms is probably the most commonly used and loved by fish.

Despite their popularity, tubifex worms have only gotten more popular in recent years, and most fish will happily eat them.

With bloodworms also being more readily available and most people sticking with what they already know, we can’t see them being replaced anytime soon.