I have seen as many as nine leaves of the lime-tree drawn into the same burrow, and not nearly all of them had been gnawed; but such leaves may serve as a store for future consumption. Where fallen leaves are abundant, many more are sometimes collected over the mouth of a burrow than can be used, so that a small pile of unused leaves is left like a roof over those which have been partly dragged in.

A leaf in being dragged a little way into a cylindrical burrow is necessarily much folded or crumpled. When another leaf is drawn in, this is done exteriorly to the first one, and so on with the succeeding leaves; and finally all become closely folded and pressed together. Sometimes the worm enlarges the mouth of its burrow, or makes a fresh one close by, so as to draw in a still larger number of leaves. They often or generally fill up the interstices between the drawn-in leaves with moist viscid earth ejected from their bodies; and thus the mouths of the burrows are securely plugged. Hundreds of such plugged burrows may be seen in many places, especially during the autumnal and early winter months. But, as will hereafter be shown, leaves are dragged into the burrows not only for plugging them up and for food, but for the sake of lining the upper part or mouth.

When worms cannot obtain leaves, petioles, sticks, &c., with which to plug up the mouths of their burrows, they often protect them by little heaps of stones; and such heaps of smooth rounded pebbles may frequently be seen on gravel-walks. Here there can be no question about food. A lady, who was interested in the habits of worms, removed the little heaps of stones from the mouths of several burrows and cleared the surface of the ground for some inches all round. She went out on the following night with a lantern, and saw the worms with their tails fixed in their burrows, dragging the stones inwards by the aid of their mouths, no doubt by suction. "After two nights some of the holes had 8 or 9 small stones over them; after four nights one had about 30, and another 34 stones." {29} One stone--which had been dragged over the gravel-walk to the mouth of a burrow weighed two ounces; and this proves how strong worms are. But they show greater strength in sometimes displacing stones in a well-trodden gravel-walk; that they do so, may be inferred from the cavities left by the displaced stones being exactly filled by those lying over the mouths of adjoining burrows, as I have myself observed.

Work of this kind is usually performed during the night; but I have occasionally known objects to be drawn into the burrows during the day. What advantage the worms derive from plugging up the mouths of their burrows with leaves, &c., or from piling stones over them, is doubtful. They do not act in this manner at the times when they eject much earth from their burrows; for their castings then serve to cover the mouths. When gardeners wish to kill worms on a lawn, it is necessary first to brush or rake away the castings from the surface, in order that the lime-water may enter the burrows. {30} It might be inferred from this fact that the mouths are plugged up with leaves, &c., to prevent the entrance of water during heavy rain; but it may be urged against this view that a few, loose, well-rounded stones are ill-adapted to keep out water. I have moreover seen many burrows in the perpendicularly cut turf-edgings to gravel-walks, into which water could hardly flow, as well plugged as burrows on a level surface. It is not probable that the plugs or piles of stones serve to conceal the burrows from scolopendras, which, according to Hoffmeister, {31} are the bitterest enemies of worms, or from the larger species of Carabus and Staphylinus which attack them ferociously, for these animals are nocturnal, and the burrows are opened at night. May not worms when the mouth of the burrow is protected be able to remain with safety with their heads close to it, which we know that they like to do, but which costs so many of them their lives? Or may not the plugs check the free ingress of the lowest stratum of air, when chilled by radiation at night, from the surrounding ground and herbage? I am inclined to believe in this latter view: firstly, because when worms were kept in pots in a room with a fire, in which case cold air could not enter the burrows, they plugged them up in a slovenly manner; and secondarily, because they often coat the upper part of their burrows with leaves, apparently to prevent their bodies from coming into close contact with the cold damp earth. Mr. E. Parfitt has suggested to me that the mouths of the burrows are closed in order that the air within them may be kept thoroughly damp, and this seems the most probable explanation of the habit. But the plugging-up process may serve for all the above purposes.

Whatever the motive may be, it appears that worms much dislike leaving the mouths of their burrows open. Nevertheless they will reopen them at night, whether or not they can afterwards close them.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 14

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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