Can You Survive Eating Earthworms?

Earthworm on dirtMaybe the original inspiration was a childhood dare, or maybe it was the popular children’s book How to Eat Fried Worms. Whatever the reason, I can’t be the only one who has wondered about eating earthworms in a survival situation.

Do they actually have a bunch of calories? Protein? Is that really safe or…well maybe “or” and trailing off is the best way to end a question about eating worms.

When it comes to survival situations eating earthworms can be a good way to get iron, protein, and all-important calories to keep your energy up and increase the chance of survival. However, because of potential parasites the earthworms should always be cooked, if possible, and there are major differences in what one type of earthworm can provide nutritionally versus another.

Yes, there proper ways to eat worms. Worms should not be eaten raw. They need to be fried or thoroughly steamed, smoked, or boiled, though thoroughly fried tends to be the best solution.

Wonder just how good earthworms are for survival? Wondering about the nutritional content (yeah I’m nerdy like that, too), or the best way to prepare them? Read on to learn all you NEED to know about eating worms – and then some.

Can You Survive on Earthworms?

The most important part of this question is figuring out the exact meaning. If the question is whether or not by “survive eating earthworms” you mean a permanent diet overflowing with earthworms in a creative yet unlikely diet or if you’re asking about them as a snack or small series of meals in a wilderness survival type situation.

You can eat earthworms. They aren’t poisonous, and in fact there are two known instances in the world where earthworms were one of the most consistent forms of protein for an indigenous tribe. In addition to this, there are dozens of tribes or areas across the world where worms are added in as a natural part  of the diet even if they aren’t a consistent thing.

How to Prepare Earthworms for Eating

The biggest thing to know is that you shouldn’t eat earthworms raw if you have any other option. While earthworms generally do not carry disease, they do have a tendency to carry some very nasty parasites that can badly mess up a person. This is why they need to be properly treated and the tribes that used to eat a lot of earthworms would always treat the worms and cook them before eating.

When you’re deciding how to prepare earthworms for eating, the best option is to be able to fry or bake them thoroughly. There are also instructions that focus on boiling worms three times to thoroughly get out both the parasites and the slime. When in a wilderness survival situation, it’s generally best to start a fire and fry them thoroughly. 

This will kill any parasites, and is simply the best option for safety and also for doing what you can about test when deciding on the best way to prepare earthworms for eating.

What do earthworms taste like?

No one should be surprised that earthworms often are described as having an “earthy” taste. Ideally you can take the time to carefully cut them open to remove the insides which will contain soil and everything therein. However, in a survival situation that is not likely to be the case and although fried up the taste will likely be unpleasant.

Obviously the taste is also going to differ a bit based on how they are prepared. Boiled earthworms tend to taste a bit stringy and the dirt taste will be very strong. When fried, it can become crispy and a bit more palatable, especially if some effort is made to remove the dirt from the inside of the worms at that point.

If they are eaten raw despite all warnings (once again not recommended) they are likely to be slimy, stringy, and by almost all accounts – very gross.

Even prepared, there really isn’t a common meat that earthworms can be compared to when it comes to taste.

natives preparing to cook earthwormsWhat are traditional ways to prepare earthworms to eat?

One thing to keep in mind, especially if you’re reading this from the United States or Canada where about 95% of our readership is from, is that earthworms are FAR different in some areas than other.

The two main tribes that were known for depending on these types of worms for protein were located in Australia and Venezuela, respectively. The thing this two areas have in common is the fact they are home to some truly giant earthworms. We’re not talking about 8-10 inches and weight in grams here, but 3-5 feet in length and up to 5 lbs.

In other words, these earthworms have a whole lot to offer in the meat, size, and weight department compared to the small earthworms (or “night crawlers” if you prefer) that you are likely to find throughout most of the United States in Canada. You might also be surprised to learn that there are hundreds of different “species” of earthworms across the world. That means plenty of small differences – though tips for preparing them are going to be relatively the same.

So the traditional ways to prepare worms for eating involves skinning them in a way that cuts out the interior organs that are filled with dirt and then hanging the worm carcasses up to smoke overnight. This “smoked earthworm” is the most common way to prepare it for actual food, however there are some other preparation styles worth talking about.

When fried they are mixed with local spices and often combined with some other local delicacies to make it a bit more palatable. When it comes to using it for medicine, the worm is first smoked, then dried, then it is ground into a fine powder.

For more on preparation and the in-depth measurements of nutritional value, then you’ll want to check out the study which we link to.

If you want the full heavy science rundown directly from the study then you will want to check it out HERE. The super-sciency readers of this outdoor blog will be able to fill in the details from this, as it is the single largest and most detailed scientific study of earthworms as food that has ever been done as of this writing.

Earthworm Nutritional Information

While most nations aren’t going to be rushing to swap out beef and pork for earthworm, a detailed study of earthworm nutritional values actually reveals some pretty interesting things. Earthworm nutritional values are not as cut and dry as you might think, and while it would be easy to believe that earthworm meat would not compare to larger animals pound for pound, the study actually shows some really interesting things.

DISCLAIMER: Exact numbers are going to vary based on the size and weight of the worm, the type of earthworm, and other similar factors, and that especially relates to the question of calories.

The study of the most popular earthworms to eat show some remarkable things. While it can be harder to collect “pounds” of earthworm meat, pound for pound earthworms are comparable to more common meat like beef or pork in many ways. 

Worms are loaded with protein, iron, and calcium. The iron and protein numbers are comparable to popular meat while the calcium is the big surprise. The calcium amounts found in worms are the equivalent of milk and cheese. That is surprising but welcome boost to anyone finding themselves having to eat worms!

Trace amounts of minerals like copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium are all found in earthworms, as well, and in long-term survival situations even adding some trace vitamins and minerals can do wonders for a body under severe stress in the wild.

As far as calories, that matters a lot based on size. No one has done an exact scientific measurement on how many calories are in earthworms, and it will matter based on weight. One estimate going around online is that an earthworm is less than a calorie, but in all likelihood that is just a guess and probably on the short side. Chances are a single worm is more than one calorie, but also still in the single digits (less than 10).

Unless you’re dealing with a 3 to 5 foot long great worm as can be found in Australia or South America. In that case, probably just a wee bit more.

Eating Earthworms FAQ

Turns out, there are many interesting questions out there when it comes to earthworms. While worms aren’t going to be an obvious protein source they are getting attention both as a good survival food and as a possible short-term protein solution in some areas. The phenomenon of foodies looking for unique food has also brought the earthworm back into the spotlight and on some unlikely dinner plates.

Is Eating Earthworms Dangerous?

Yes and no. If you eat raw earthworms, that can be extremely dangerous as these potentially carry dangerous parasites that can really tear through the internal organs. There are several cases of really severe damage done from parasites that came from eating raw worms. However if the earthworms are properly treated and cooked, there is no danger to eating them – except possibly the nasty aftertaste in your mouth.

Do Earthworms Carry Disease?

Generally no. The worry with eating worms isn’t going to come from disease, but from the potential parasites or bacteria that raw worms can carry in their systems.

How Many Types of Earthworms Are There?

There are over 1800 known species of earthworms throughout the world with the giant earthworms found in northern South America and another species found in Australia being the largest.

Are Earthworms Bad for You?

As long as they are properly cooked, no they have plenty of vitamins and minerals. Cooked earthworms can be a good survival food. However, that being said, they are often impractical as a food source for a large number of people.

How Many Calories in an Earthworm?

A number thrown around online is under one calorie, but that is not likely to be accurate. This depends immensely on the size of the earthworm and the type, but for the average non-giant earthworm that is 8-12 inches and commonly found in the United States and Canada a good guess is 1-4 calories each.

For giant earthworms that can give large amounts of flesh the numbers will be even higher.

So What’s This All Mean?

In a survival situation there are certain things that are incredibly important, and if you have shelter and water taken care of then food does become a fairly high priority. While most people can go about three weeks without any food, that doesn’t mean it is a great idea.

Food is energy, and if you’ve ever gone a week without eating – you know how much that affects everything you need during survival situations: mental clarity, physical strength, energy. Even the smallest amounts of food can make a huge difference, especially when there are some fats and proteins ingested.

While earthworms are hardly likely to become a main staple of your diet anytime soon, in a survival situation they can be a great source of food that are easy to find in many different ecosystems and give a much needed boost to help you make smart choices in the days ahead. While you certainly don’t want to survive off them full time (if you’re looking for an “alternative” protein source then go with cricket protein bars) in an emergency or survival situation being able to cook some earthworms is a good way to get some much needed calories and proteins in a snap.

Can you survive eating earthworms? Yes, they can definitely help, but this isn’t a good long-term solution.

Bear Grylls Survival School: Eating Earthworms Video

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