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Tiny red worms in water

Updated November 22, 2016

Tiny, red worms are commonly found in ponds, lakes, streams and man-made waterways. They , also suddenly appear in aquarium water, leaving owners wondering what they are, where they came from and if they are harmful. Closely observe them and their habits. The tiny, red worms are probably one of two types of worms commonly seen in fresh water and are not harmful.

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A tubifex worm (Tubifex tubifex) is a thin, small, reddish, segmented worm. These worms live in large clusters in the mud or slime on the bottom of ponds, drainage canals or other waterways with slow-moving water. Tubifex are often harvested and sold to aquarium owners as fish food. Be careful when feeding these worms to fish, as they can transmit diseases. For owners concerned about health issues, tubifex worms are available in both frozen and freeze-dried form. These processed worms are unlikely to carry any pathogens into the aquarium.


Tiny, red worms that are free-swimming are most likely bloodworms. These worms are the larvae of the midge fly (Chironomidae). Unlike the mud-loving tubifex, bloodworms are found in clear, clean water. They live only in still water, such as lakes and ponds, and are never found in rivers or streams. Bloodworms are an important food source for many fish in the wild. They may also be purchased or raised to feed to aquarium fish. They are not known to carry any diseases and are considered a safe and nutritious fish food source.

Tubifex Fun Fact

A video showing a bizarre-looking gelatinous mass of writhing tentacles was labelled as an unknown life form and placed on YouTube. The short, somewhat fuzzy film generated more than 8-million hits as well as much discussion about the nature of the creature depicted. Many were sure that it was not of this earth, while others claimed it was native to the planet but had to be some sort of mutated creature. Eventually it was determined that the film was of a colony of tubifex worms.

Bloodworm Fun Facts

After midge eggs are laid they form gooey globs, clinging to twigs and grass along the edges of still ponds and lakes. They hatch into bloodworms in only one to two days, entering a brief period of pupation after a few more days. A short time later, the adult midges emerge. The adults never eat and live only to lay eggs. They die in three to five days.

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