were drawn in by the base than in the case of lime leaves, the blades of which are very broad at the base, and of which only 4 per cent. had thus been drawn in. We may perhaps account for the fact of a still larger proportion of the laburnum leaves not having been drawn in by the base, by worms having acquired the habit of generally drawing in leaves by their tips and thus avoiding the foot-stalk. For the basal margin of the blade in many kinds of leaves forms a large angle with the foot- stalk; and if such a leaf were drawn in by the foot-stalk, the basal margin would come abruptly into contact with the ground on each side of the burrow, and would render the drawing in of the leaf very difficult.

Nevertheless worms break through their habit of avoiding the foot- stalk, if this part offers them the most convenient means for drawing leaves into their burrows. The leaves of the endless hybridised varieties of the Rhododendron vary much in shape; some are narrowest towards the base and others towards the apex. After they have fallen off, the blade on each side of the midrib often becomes curled up while drying, sometimes along the whole length, sometimes chiefly at the base, sometimes towards the apex. Out of 28 fallen leaves on one bed of peat in my garden, no less than 23 were narrower in the basal quarter than in the terminal quarter of their length; and this narrowness was chiefly due to the curling in of the margins. Out of 36 fallen leaves on another bed, in which different varieties of the Rhododendron grew, only 17 were narrower towards the base than towards the apex. My son William, who first called my attention to this case, picked up 237 fallen leaves in his garden (where the Rhododendron grows in the natural soil) and of these 65 per cent. could have been drawn by worms into their burrows more easily by the base or foot-stalk than by the tip; and this was partly due to the shape of the leaf and in a less degree to the curling in of the margins: 27 per cent. could have been drawn in more easily by the tip than by the base: and 8 per cent. with about equal ease by either end. The shape of a fallen leaf ought to be judged of before one end has been drawn into a burrow, for after this has happened, the free end, whether it be the base or apex, will dry more quickly than the end imbedded in the damp ground; and the exposed margins of the free end will consequently tend to become more curled inwards than they were when the leaf was first seized by the worm. My son found 91 leaves which had been dragged by worms into their burrows, though not to a great depth; of these 66 per cent. had been drawn in by the base or foot-stalk; and 34 per cent, by the tip. In this case, therefore, the worms judged with a considerable degree of correctness how best to draw the withered leaves of this foreign plant into their burrows; notwithstanding that they had to depart from their usual habit of avoiding the foot-stalk.

On the gravel-walks in my garden a very large number of leaves of three species of Pinus (P. austriaca, nigricans and sylvestris) are regularly drawn into the mouths of worm burrows. These leaves consist of two so-called needles, which are of considerable length in the two first and short in the last named species, and are united to a common base; and it is by this part that they are almost invariably drawn into the burrows. I have seen only two or at most three exceptions to this rule with worms in a state of nature. As the sharply pointed needles diverge a little, and as several leaves are drawn into the same burrow, each tuft forms a perfect chevaux de frise. On two occasions many of these tufts were pulled up in the evening, but by the following morning fresh leaves had been pulled in, and the burrows were again well protected. These leaves could not be dragged into the burrows to any depth, except by their bases, as a worm cannot seize hold of the two needles at the same time, and if one alone were seized by the apex, the other would be pressed against the ground and would resist the entry of the seized one. This was manifest in the above mentioned two or three exceptional cases. In order, therefore, that worms should do their work well, they must drag pine-leaves into their burrows by their bases, where the two needles are conjoined. But how they are guided in this work is a perplexing question.

This difficulty led my son Francis and myself to observe worms in confinement during several nights by the aid of a dim light, while they dragged the leaves of the above named pines into their burrows. They moved the anterior extremities of their bodies about the leaves, and on several occasions when they touched the sharp end of a needle they withdrew suddenly as if pricked. But I doubt whether they were hurt, for they are indifferent to very sharp objects, and will swallow even rose-thorns and small splinters of glass. It may also be doubted, whether the sharp ends of the needles serve to tell them that this is the wrong end to seize; for the points were cut off many leaves for a length of about one inch, and fifty-seven of them thus treated were drawn into the burrows by their bases, and not one by the cut-off ends.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 16

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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