CHAPTER I--HABITS OF WORMS.

Nature of the sites inhabited--Can live long under water-- Nocturnal--Wander about at night--Often lie close to the mouths of their burrows, and are thus destroyed in large numbers by birds-- Structure--Do not possess eyes, but can distinguish between light and darkness--Retreat rapidly when brightly illuminated, not by a reflex action--Power of attention--Sensitive to heat and cold-- Completely deaf--Sensitive to vibrations and to touch--Feeble power of smell--Taste--Mental qualities--Nature of food--Omnivorous-- Digestion--Leaves before being swallowed, moistened with a fluid of the nature of the pancreatic secretion--Extra-stomachal digestion-- Calciferous glands, structure of--Calcareous concretions formed in the anterior pair of glands--The calcareous matter primarily an excretion, but secondarily serves to neutralise the acids generated during the digestive process.

Earth-worms are distributed throughout the world under the form of a few genera, which externally are closely similar to one another. The British species of Lumbricus have never been carefully monographed; but we may judge of their probable number from those inhabiting neighbouring countries. In Scandinavia there are eight species, according to Eisen; {7} but two of these rarely burrow in the ground, and one inhabits very wet places or even lives under the water. We are here concerned only with the kinds which bring up earth to the surface in the form of castings. Hoffmeister says that the species in Germany are not well known, but gives the same number as Eisen, together with some strongly marked varieties. {8}

Earth-worms abound in England in many different stations. Their castings may be seen in extraordinary numbers on commons and chalk- downs, so as almost to cover the whole surface, where the soil is poor and the grass short and thin. But they are almost or quite as numerous in some of the London parks, where the grass grows well and the soil appears rich. Even on the same field worms are much more frequent in some places than in others, without any visible difference in the nature of the soil. They abound in paved court- yards close to houses; and an instance will be given in which they had burrowed through the floor of a very damp cellar. I have seen worms in black peat in a boggy field; but they are extremely rare, or quite absent in the drier, brown, fibrous peat, which is so much valued by gardeners. On dry, sandy or gravelly tracks, where heath with some gorse, ferns, coarse grass, moss and lichens alone grow, hardly any worms can be found. But in many parts of England, wherever a path crosses a heath, its surface becomes covered with a fine short sward. Whether this change of vegetation is due to the taller plants being killed by the occasional trampling of man and animals, or to the soil being occasionally manured by the droppings from animals, I do not know. {9} On such grassy paths worm- castings may often be seen. On a heath in Surrey, which was carefully examined, there were only a few castings on these paths, where they were much inclined; but on the more level parts, where a bed of fine earth had been washed down from the steeper parts and had accumulated to a thickness of a few inches, worm-castings abounded. These spots seemed to be overstocked with worms, so that they had been compelled to spread to a distance of a few feet from the grassy paths, and here their castings had been thrown up among the heath; but beyond this limit, not a single casting could be found. A layer, though a thin one, of fine earth, which probably long retains some moisture, is in all cases, as I believe, necessary for their existence; and the mere compression of the soil appears to be in some degree favourable to them, for they often abound in old gravel walks, and in foot-paths across fields.

Beneath large trees few castings can be found during certain seasons of the year, and this is apparently due to the moisture having been sucked out of the ground by the innumerable roots of the trees; for such places may be seen covered with castings after the heavy autumnal rains. Although most coppices and woods support many worms, yet in a forest of tall and ancient beech-trees in Knole Park, where the ground beneath was bare of all vegetation, not a single casting could be found over wide spaces, even during the autumn. Nevertheless, castings were abundant on some grass- covered glades and indentations which penetrated this forest. On the mountains of North Wales and on the Alps, worms, as I have been informed, are in most places rare; and this may perhaps be due to the close proximity of the subjacent rocks, into which worms cannot burrow during the winter so as to escape being frozen. Dr. McIntosh, however, found worm-castings at a height of 1500 feet on Schiehallion in Scotland. They are numerous on some hills near Turin at from 2000 to 3000 feet above the sea, and at a great altitude on the Nilgiri Mountains in South India and on the Himalaya.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 03

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Charles Darwin

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