It is only the anterior extremity of the body, where the cerebral ganglia lie, which is affected by light, as Hoffmeister asserts, and as I observed on many occasions. If this part is shaded, other parts of the body may be fully illuminated, and no effect will be produced. As these animals have no eyes, we must suppose that the light passes through their skins, and in some manner excites their cerebral ganglia. It appeared at first probable that the different manner in which they were affected on different occasions might be explained, either by the degree of extension of their skin and its consequent transparency, or by some particular incident of the light; but I could discover no such relation. One thing was manifest, namely, that when worms were employed in dragging leaves into their burrows or in eating them, and even during the short intervals whilst they rested from their work, they either did not perceive the light or were regardless of it; and this occurred even when the light was concentrated on them through a large lens. So, again, whilst they are paired, they will remain for an hour or two out of their burrows, fully exposed to the morning light; but it appears from what Hoffmeister says that a light will occasionally cause paired individuals to separate.

When a worm is suddenly illuminated and dashes like a rabbit into its burrow--to use the expression employed by a friend--we are at first led to look at the action as a reflex one. The irritation of the cerebral ganglia appears to cause certain muscles to contract in an inevitable manner, independently of the will or consciousness of the animal, as if it were an automaton. But the different effect which a light produced on different occasions, and especially the fact that a worm when in any way employed and in the intervals of such employment, whatever set of muscles and ganglia may then have been brought into play, is often regardless of light, are opposed to the view of the sudden withdrawal being a simple reflex action. With the higher animals, when close attention to some object leads to the disregard of the impressions which other objects must be producing on them, we attribute this to their attention being then absorbed; and attention implies the presence of a mind. Every sportsman knows that he can approach animals whilst they are grazing, fighting or courting, much more easily than at other times. The state, also, of the nervous system of the higher animals differs much at different times, for instance, a horse is much more readily startled at one time than at another. The comparison here implied between the actions of one of the higher animals and of one so low in the scale as an earth-worm, may appear far-fetched; for we thus attribute to the worm attention and some mental power, nevertheless I can see no reason to doubt the justice of the comparison.

Although worms cannot be said to possess the power of vision, their sensitiveness to light enables them to distinguish between day and night; and they thus escape extreme danger from the many diurnal animals which prey on them. Their withdrawal into their burrows during the day appears, however, to have become an habitual action; for worms kept in pots covered by glass plates, over which sheets of black paper were spread, and placed before a north-east window, remained during the day-time in their burrows and came out every night; and they continued thus to act for a week. No doubt a little light may have entered between the sheets of glass and the blackened paper; but we know from the trials with coloured glass, that worms are indifferent to a small amount of light.

Worms appear to be less sensitive to moderate radiant heat than to a bright light. I judge of this from having held at different times a poker heated to dull redness near some worms, at a distance which caused a very sensible degree of warmth in my hand. One of them took no notice; a second withdrew into its burrow, but not quickly; the third and fourth much more quickly, and the fifth as quickly as possible. The light from a candle, concentrated by a lens and passing through a sheet of glass which would intercept most of the heat-rays, generally caused a much more rapid retreat than did the heated poker. Worms are sensitive to a low temperature, as may be inferred from their not coming out of their burrows during a frost.

Worms do not possess any sense of hearing. They took not the least notice of the shrill notes from a metal whistle, which was repeatedly sounded near them; nor did they of the deepest and loudest tones of a bassoon. They were indifferent to shouts, if care was taken that the breath did not strike them. When placed on a table close to the keys of a piano, which was played as loudly as possible, they remained perfectly quiet.

Although they are indifferent to undulations in the air audible by us, they are extremely sensitive to vibrations in any solid object. When the pots containing two worms which had remained quite indifferent to the sound of the piano, were placed on this instrument, and the note C in the bass clef was struck, both instantly retreated into their burrows.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 06

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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