After the bits of cabbage and onion had been removed, I looked beneath them to see whether the worms had accidentally come up from below, but there was no sign of a burrow; and twice the buried objects were laid on pieces of tin-foil which were not in the least displaced. It is of course possible that the worms whilst moving about on the surface of the ground, with their tails affixed within their burrows, may have poked their heads into the places where the above objects were buried; but I have never seen worms acting in this manner. Some pieces of cabbage-leaf and of onion were twice buried beneath very fine ferruginous sand, which was slightly pressed down and well watered, so as to be rendered very compact, and these pieces were never discovered. On a third occasion the same kind of sand was neither pressed down nor watered, and the pieces of cabbage were discovered and removed after the second night. These several facts indicate that worms possess some power of smell; and that they discover by this means odoriferous and much-coveted kinds of food.

It may be presumed that all animals which feed on various substances possess the sense of taste, and this is certainly the case with worms. Cabbage-leaves are much liked by worms; and it appears that they can distinguish between different varieties; but this may perhaps be owing to differences in their texture. On eleven occasions pieces of the fresh leaves of a common green variety and of the red variety used for pickling were given them, and they preferred the green, the red being either wholly neglected or much less gnawed. On two other occasions, however, they seemed to prefer the red. Half-decayed leaves of the red variety and fresh leaves of the green were attacked about equally. When leaves of the cabbage, horse-radish (a favourite food) and of the onion were given together, the latter were always, and manifestly preferred. Leaves of the cabbage, lime-tree, Ampelopsis, parsnip (Pastinaca), and celery (Apium) were likewise given together; and those of the celery were first eaten. But when leaves of cabbage, turnip, beet, celery, wild cherry and carrots were given together, the two latter kinds, especially those of the carrot, were preferred to all the others, including those of celery. It was also manifest after many trials that wild cherry leaves were greatly preferred to those of the lime-tree and hazel (Corylus). According to Mr. Bridgman the half-decayed leaves of Phlox verna are particularly liked by worms. {16}

Pieces of the leaves of cabbage, turnip, horse-radish and onion were left on the pots during 22 days, and were all attacked and had to be renewed; but during the whole of this time leaves of an Artemisia and of the culinary sage, thyme and mint, mingled with the above leaves, were quite neglected excepting those of the mint, which were occasionally and very slightly nibbled. These latter four kinds of leaves do not differ in texture in a manner which could make them disagreeable to worms; they all have a strong taste, but so have the four first mentioned kinds of leaves; and the wide difference in the result must be attributed to a preference by the worms for one taste over another.

Mental Qualities.--There is little to be said on this head. We have seen that worms are timid. It may be doubted whether they suffer as much pain when injured, as they seem to express by their contortions. Judging by their eagerness for certain kinds of food, they must enjoy the pleasure of eating. Their sexual passion is strong enough to overcome for a time their dread of light. They perhaps have a trace of social feeling, for they are not disturbed by crawling over each other's bodies, and they sometimes lie in contact. According to Hoffmeister they pass the winter either singly or rolled up with others into a ball at the bottom of their burrows. {17} Although worms are so remarkably deficient in the several sense-organs, this does not necessarily preclude intelligence, as we know from such cases as those of Laura Bridgman; and we have seen that when their attention is engaged, they neglect impressions to which they would otherwise have attended; and attention indicates the presence of a mind of some kind. They are also much more easily excited at certain times than at others. They perform a few actions instinctively, that is, all the individuals, including the young, perform such actions in nearly the same fashion. This is shown by the manner in which the species of Perichaeta eject their castings, so as to construct towers; also by the manner in which the burrows of the common earth-worm are smoothly lined with fine earth and often with little stones, and the mouths of their burrows with leaves. One of their strongest instincts is the plugging up the mouths of their burrows with various objects; and very young worms act in this manner. But some degree of intelligence appears, as we shall see in the next chapter, to be exhibited in this work,--a result which has surprised me more than anything else in regard to worms.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 08

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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