Abstract We studied the avoidance behaviour of Eisenia fetida and Aporrectodea caliginosa in OECD artificial soil spiked with NaCl and in natural saline soil (of varying ionic constitutions) collected from Robertson Experimental Farm (ROBS) in Western Cape, South Africa. For each organism, the ecotoxicological test was performed using a two-chamber test over a period of 48 h. The results showed that in the OECD soil, the avoidance EC50 (the concentration/electrical conductivity at which there is effect on 50% of the organisms) for A. caliginosa of 667 mg kg −1 NaCl was lower than 1164 mg kg −1 for E. fetida. Similarly in ROBS soil, the avoidance EC50 for A. caliginosa of 0.26 dS m −1 was lower than 0.56 dS m −1 in E. fetida. These results indicated that A. caliginosa showed better avoidance to salinity than E. fetida irrespective of soil types or ionic constitution. When compared with literature data, EC50 values in avoidance tests were either lower or comparable to those of reproduction, which was the most sensitive life-cycle parameter. The only exception was the EC50 value for avoidance of E. fetida in natural soil which was higher than for reproduction suggesting that the predictive value of the avoidance test for this species might be lower in natural soils. The variation in sensitivities of these earthworms could be as a result of differences in their eco-physiology. These findings suggest the relevance of the avoidance test as a suitable screening method showing first tendencies of saline stress on the habitat function of soils.