Protein Poisoning – String Of Pearls – Ammonia Poisoning

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Protein Poisoning AKA Sour Crop

AKA String Of Pearls

What Is Protein Poisoning (“P/P”), Also Known As String Of Pearls Or Sour Crop

Essentially if worms are over fed and under-bedded, or too much moisture is in the bin, it can result in:

  • increasing acidity
  • toxins like ammonia can build up in the bedding of the farm
  • alcohols can also form in the bedding

When buffers are used properly, they will help keep the bedding neutral.

When bedding is neutral the ammonia can off-gas from the bedding.

But if a farm has been over fed and under bedded, especially in the absence of buffers, ammonia will build up in the bedding, along with alcohols and acidity.

The increasing acidity (measured in pH) can cause worms distress.

When it becomes very bad (and sometimes this happens very quickly) the worms are not able to excrete enough calcium from their calciferous gland to neutralise the foods.

The result is worms that look thin, with blobs or “pearls” along their length.


How Do I Save Worms That Show Protein Poisoning?

After you see it happening it may be too late to save many of the worms. It just depends.

My experience from working with people in the Facebook groups is that it takes about 3 to 7 days and then they are all dead.
Speed is of the essence here.

To rescue a bin if you need to do so:

– add lots of browns/bedding – if the farm is too wet (another contributor to PP) add this dry

– sprinkle buffers (dolomite/shell/rock dust) generously over the bedding, then agitate bedding a bit to mix it in.

– Repeat this addition of buffers after 3 to 7 days. Then add as a maintenance thing.

– Don’t feed for a few weeks

– When starting to feed again, ensure you follow how I teach to monitor the food from the previous feedings in the pocket feeding system.

– Ensure you use buffers with every feeding.


If you just got the worms and they are all big etc, you can remove them from the sour bedding and start again.

If you remove the worms from the bedding:
Keep the old bedding separate, mix in more browns and buffer, and any cocoons in there MAY hatch and you may get more new worms out of that bad bedding.

How Do I PREVENT Protein Poisoning?

Pay attention to these simple steps:

– Feed appropriately

– Always add bedding under food

– Avoid things on the avoid list until you gain experience

– Use buffers


Pictures of worms sick from protein/ammonia/alcohol poisoning:



WARNING – These photos are a little “gross” – they show sick/dying worms 🙁