CHAPTER II--HABITS OF WORMS--continued.

Manner in which worms seize objects--Their power of suction--The instinct of plugging up the mouths of their burrows--Stones piled over the burrows--The advantages thus gained--Intelligence shown by worms in their manner of plugging up their burrows--Various kinds of leaves and other objects thus used--Triangles of paper--Summary of reasons for believing that worms exhibit some intelligence-- Means by which they excavate their burrows, by pushing away the earth and swallowing it--Earth also swallowed for the nutritious matter which it contains--Depth to which worms burrow, and the construction of their burrows--Burrows lined with castings, and in the upper part with leaves--The lowest part paved with little stones or seeds--Manner in which the castings are ejected--The collapse of old burrows--Distribution of worms--Tower-like castings in Bengal--Gigantic castings on the Nilgiri Mountains--Castings ejected in all countries.

In the pots in which worms were kept, leaves were pinned down to the soil, and at night the manner in which they were seized could be observed. The worms always endeavoured to drag the leaves towards their burrows; and they tore or sucked off small fragments, whenever the leaves were sufficiently tender. They generally seized the thin edge of a leaf with their mouths, between the projecting upper and lower lip; the thick and strong pharynx being at the same time, as Perrier remarks, pushed forward within their bodies, so as to afford a point of resistance for the upper lip. In the case of broad flat objects they acted in a wholly different manner. The pointed anterior extremity of the body, after being brought into contact with an object of this kind, was drawn within the adjoining rings, so that it appeared truncated and became as thick as the rest of the body. This part could then be seen to swell a little; and this, I believe, is due to the pharynx being pushed a little forwards. Then by a slight withdrawal of the pharynx or by its expansion, a vacuum was produced beneath the truncated slimy end of the body whilst in contact with the object; and by this means the two adhered firmly together. {28} That under these circumstances a vacuum was produced was plainly seen on one occasion, when a large worm lying beneath a flaccid cabbage leaf tried to drag it away; for the surface of the leaf directly over the end of the worm's body became deeply pitted. On another occasion a worm suddenly lost its hold on a flat leaf; and the anterior end of the body was momentarily seen to be cup-formed. Worms can attach themselves to an object beneath water in the same manner; and I saw one thus dragging away a submerged slice of an onion-bulb.

The edges of fresh or nearly fresh leaves affixed to the ground were often nibbled by the worms; and sometimes the epidermis and all the parenchyma on one side was gnawed completely away over a considerable space; the epidermis alone on the opposite side being left quite clean. The veins were never touched, and leaves were thus sometimes partly converted into skeletons. As worms have no teeth and as their mouths consist of very soft tissue, it may be presumed that they consume by means of suction the edges and the parenchyma of fresh leaves, after they have been softened by the digestive fluid. They cannot attack such strong leaves as those of sea-kale or large and thick leaves of ivy; though one of the latter after it had become rotten was reduced in parts to the state of a skeleton.

Worms seize leaves and other objects, not only to serve as food, but for plugging up the mouths of their burrows; and this is one of their strongest instincts. They sometimes work so energetically that Mr. D. F. Simpson, who has a small walled garden where worms abound in Bayswater, informs me that on a calm damp evening he there heard so extraordinary a rustling noise from under a tree from which many leaves had fallen, that he went out with a light and discovered that the noise was caused by many worms dragging the dry leaves and squeezing them into the burrows. Not only leaves, but petioles of many kinds, some flower-peduncles, often decayed twigs of trees, bits of paper, feathers, tufts of wool and horse- hairs are dragged into their burrows for this purpose. I have seen as many as seventeen petioles of a Clematis projecting from the mouth of one burrow, and ten from the mouth of another. Some of these objects, such as the petioles just named, feathers, &c., are never gnawed by worms. In a gravel-walk in my garden I found many hundred leaves of a pine-tree (P. austriaca or nigricans) drawn by their bases into burrows. The surfaces by which these leaves are articulated to the branches are shaped in as peculiar a manner as is the joint between the leg-bones of a quadruped; and if these surfaces had been in the least gnawed, the fact would have been immediately visible, but there was no trace of gnawing. Of ordinary dicotyledonous leaves, all those which are dragged into burrows are not gnawed.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 13

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book