After a very large number have been dissolved, a flocculent residue is left, which apparently consists of the delicate ruptured cell-walls. In the two posterior pairs of glands the carbonate of lime contained in the cells occasionally aggregates into small rhombic crystals or into concretions, which lie between the lamellae; but I have seen only one case, and Claparede only a very few such cases.

The two anterior glands differ a little in shape from the four posterior ones, by being more oval. They differ also conspicuously in generally containing several small, or two or three larger, or a single very large concretion of carbonate of lime, as much as 1.5 mm. in diameter. When a gland includes only a few very small concretions, or, as sometimes happens, none at all, it is easily overlooked. The large concretions are round or oval, and exteriorly almost smooth. One was found which filled up not only the whole gland, as is often the case, but its neck; so that it resembled an olive-oil flask in shape. These concretions when broken are seen to be more or less crystalline in structure. How they escape from the gland is a marvel; but that they do escape is certain, for they are often found in the gizzard, intestines, and in the castings of worms, both with those kept in confinement and those in a state of nature.

Claparede says very little about the structure of the two anterior glands, and he supposes that the calcareous matter of which the concretions are formed is derived from the four posterior glands. But if an anterior gland which contains only small concretions is placed in acetic acid and afterwards dissected, or if sections are made of such a gland without being treated with acid, lamellae like those in the posterior glands and coated with cellular matter could be plainly seen, together with a multitude of free calciferous cells readily soluble in acetic acid. When a gland is completely filled with a single large concretion, there are no free cells, as these have been all consumed in forming the concretion. But if such a concretion, or one of only moderately large size, is dissolved in acid, much membranous matter is left, which appears to consist of the remains of the formerly active lamellae. After the formation and expulsion of a large concretion, new lamellae must be developed in some manner. In one section made by my son, the process had apparently commenced, although the gland contained two rather large concretions, for near the walls several cylindrical and oval pipes were intersected, which were lined with cellular matter and were quite filled with free calciferous cells. A great enlargement in one direction of several oval pipes would give rise to the lamellae.

Besides the free calciferous cells in which no nucleus was visible, other and rather larger free cells were seen on three occasions; and these contained a distinct nucleus and nucleolus. They were only so far acted on by acetic acid that the nucleus was thus rendered more distinct. A very small concretion was removed from between two of the lamellae within an anterior gland. It was imbedded in pulpy cellular matter, with many free calciferous cells, together with a multitude of the larger, free, nucleated cells, and these latter cells were not acted on by acetic acid, while the former were dissolved. From this and other such cases I am led to suspect that the calciferous cells are developed from the larger nucleated ones; but how this was effected was not ascertained.

When an anterior gland contains several minute concretions, some of these are generally angular or crystalline in outline, while the greater number are rounded with an irregular mulberry-like surface. Calciferous cells adhered to many parts of these mulberry-like masses, and their gradual disappearance could be traced while they still remained attached. It was thus evident that the concretions are formed from the lime contained within the free calciferous cells. As the smaller concretions increase in size, they come into contact and unite, thus enclosing the now functionless lamellae; and by such steps the formation of the largest concretions could be followed. Why the process regularly takes place in the two anterior glands, and only rarely in the four posterior glands, is quite unknown. Morren says that these glands disappear during the winter; and I have seen some instances of this fact, and others in which either the anterior or posterior glands were at this season so shrunk and empty, that they could be distinguished only with much difficulty.

With respect to the function of the calciferous glands, it is probable that they primarily serve as organs of excretion, and secondarily as an aid to digestion. Worms consume many fallen leaves; and it is known that lime goes on accumulating in leaves until they drop off the parent-plant, instead of being re-absorbed into the stem or roots, like various other organic and inorganic substances. {25} The ashes of a leaf of an acacia have been known to contain as much as 72 per cent.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 11

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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