Got Worms? How to Fix Your Aquarium Worm Problem

Last Updated on July 4, 2021 by cmoarz

Found worms in your aquarium gravel or substrate? Maybe you just happened to notice some white worms in aquarium gravel as you were walking by and thought to yourself “Oh, crap, what’s that”. That my friend is what we call a detritus worm. This blog post will answer several questions, What a detritus worm is, how to get rid of detritus worms in your aquarium, and the other varieties of worms you might also encounter.

Let’s get started

What is a detritus worm?

A detritus worm is any small plant-eating, soil-dwelling invertebrate that inhabits the substrate or gravel at the bottom of an aquarium. They are most commonly found in freshwater tanks. Their favorite food is organic debris such as dead plant leaves, fish waste, and excess food waste.

Are detritus worms bad for a tank?

No, While they may be unsightly, a detritus worm is completely harmless to your tank’s ecosystem and its inhabitants. In fact, They may help clean up excess waste and also act as an alternative food source for your fish. Shrimp, snails, and fish will snack on these as they see them.

Types of detritus worms that can be found in aquariums

Detritus worms are a type of segmented annelid worms that belong to the same family as leeches and earthworms. These are small creatures that feed on fish waste and dead plant matter inside an aquatic ecosystem.

Generally, they come in different colors and shapes but they all have the same basic body structure. They are segmented and cylindrical in shape (some are flat), with smooth skin and some kind of covering to protect them from predators. Some species have bristles at the anterior end of their bodies, while others can be covered by tiny hairs.

The number of segments varies a lot among detritus worms, some having up to 100 segments, some having more or less. Their size also differs significantly, depending on the species and age of the worm itself; adult individuals can reach a length of over one meter in tropical areas. The smallest ones are usually no bigger than 1 cm long.

The most common type of the genus is found in aquariums around the world – Tubifex, which some people have also been known to call “boogy worms” because of their dancing appearance.

Aquarists should keep a close eye on these little scavengers because if their population gets too high it will affect water quality through the release of ammonia into the tank. On top of this, if left unchecked they may contribute to algae growth due to excessive nitrate production.

Tubifex worms are among the most common detritus worms found in freshwater aquariums today. They are very small and have red rings with an off-white colored body. Like other annelids, tubifex worms are hermaphroditic and will change and mature their organs at different times to avoid self-reproduction.

Some other common species include Planaria worms, Hydra’s and snail leeches.

Planaria wormy is a common freshwater aquarium pest that is often confused with tubifex worms. The most distinguishing feature between the two is planaria’s flat, bi-lobed shape.

What to do if you see worms on the surface of your gravel

Most of the time, getting rid of, or at least controlling the worm population is fairly easy and straightforward.

By using a gravel vacuum, you can get the majority of the detritus worms out of your tank. This also cleans up the excess food particles and waste the worms are feeding on. Be sure to do a 50% water change and check your filter to make sure no worms are living there.

If you have a deep sand bed in your tank, the worms won’t be able to live there. By adding a layer of gravel on top of the sand will drive the worms out and they will die due to lack of oxygen. Be sure to clean up any excess food that is below your sand so this doesn’t happen again.

How to prevent excess worm population growth

There are several ways to prevent excess worm population growth in your tanks. Some of these include:

  • Make sure you clean up any excess food and waste that falls into the gravel and avoid overfeeding.
  • Make sure your filter is working at optimal efficiency and check it often for worm populations.
  • Add a deep sand bed to your tank as this will prevent the worms from living there.
  • Be sure you are oxygenating your tank well. A well-oxygenated tank makes it hard for these worms to take root.
  • Keep an eye on your gravel more often for any signs of worm activity.
  • If you see any more of these worms, be sure to remove them as soon as possible.

Removing planaria worms

How to get rid of planaria worms in aquarium?

Planaria worms can be more difficult to get under control than tubifex worms because they are so very small. The best way to get rid of them, or at least control their population is by using chemicals specially designed to kill off these worms. Popular chemicals include:


Be absolutely sure these are the types of worms you have before considering these options, as chemicals are often very hard on the fish living in the tanks and can be considered quite dangerous depending on what you’re using.

What are the red worms in aquarium substrate?

Red worms on your substrate and in your gravel are most likely Tubifex worms. Another possibility is they are simply blood worms. Bloodworms are most likely to show up if you tend to feed your fish…Live bloodworms.

If you don’t feed your fish live bloodworms, it’s possible they came in on plants from the store that does use live worms. Like every other worm on this list, they can also come in on pond plants and other plants.


Owner of and also owner of actual Aquarium Gravel believe it or not! ;). Setting up beautiful aquarium sceneries and habitats since I was very young. Enjoy!