The worms in confinement often seized the needles near the middle and drew them towards the mouths of their burrows; and one worm tried in a senseless manner to drag them into the burrow by bending them. They sometimes collected many more leaves over the mouths of their burrows (as in the case formerly mentioned of lime-leaves) than could enter them. On other occasions, however, they behaved very differently; for as soon as they touched the base of a pine-leaf, this was seized, being sometimes completely engulfed in their mouths, or a point very near the base was seized, and the leaf was then quickly dragged or rather jerked into their burrows. It appeared both to my son and myself as if the worms instantly perceived as soon as they had seized a leaf in the proper manner. Nine such cases were observed, but in one of them the worm failed to drag the leaf into its burrow, as it was entangled by other leaves lying near. In another case a leaf stood nearly upright with the points of the needles partly inserted into a burrow, but how placed there was not seen; and then the worm reared itself up and seized the base, which was dragged into the mouth of the burrow by bowing the whole leaf. On the other hand, after a worm had seized the base of a leaf, this was on two occasions relinquished from some unknown motive.

As already remarked, the habit of plugging up the mouths of the burrows with various objects, is no doubt instinctive in worms; and a very young one, born in one of my pots, dragged for some little distance a Scotch-fir leaf, one needle of which was as long and almost as thick as its own body. No species of pine is endemic in this part of England, it is therefore incredible that the proper manner of dragging pine-leaves into the burrows can be instinctive with our worms. But as the worms on which the above observations were made, were dug up beneath or near some pines, which had been planted there about forty years, it was desirable to prove that their actions were not instinctive. Accordingly, pine-leaves were scattered on the ground in places far removed from any pine-tree, and 90 of them were drawn into the burrows by their bases. Only two were drawn in by the tips of the needles, and these were not real exceptions, as one was drawn in for a very short distance, and the two needles of the other cohered. Other pine-leaves were given to worms kept in pots in a warm room, and here the result was different; for out of 42 leaves drawn into the burrows, no less than i6 were drawn in by the tips of the needles. These worms, however, worked in a careless or slovenly manner; for the leaves were often drawn in to only a small depth; sometimes they were merely heaped over the mouths of the burrows, and sometimes none were drawn in. I believe that this carelessness may be accounted for either by the warmth of the air, or by its dampness, as the pots were covered by glass plates; the worms consequently did not care about plugging up their holes effectually. Pots tenanted by worms and covered with a net which allowed the free entrance of air, were left out of doors for several nights, and now 72 leaves were all properly drawn in by their bases.

It might perhaps be inferred from the facts as yet given, that worms somehow gain a general notion of the shape or structure of pine-leaves, and perceive that it is necessary for them to seize the base where the two needles are conjoined. But the following cases make this more than doubtful. The tips of a large number of needles of P. austriaca were cemented together with shell-lac dissolved in alcohol, and were kept for some days, until, as I believe, all odour or taste had been lost; and they were then scattered on the ground where no pine-trees grew, near burrows from which the plugging had been removed. Such leaves could have been drawn into the burrows with equal ease by either end; and judging from analogy and more especially from the case presently to be given of the petioles of Clematis montana, I expected that the apex would have been preferred. But the result was that out of 121 leaves with the tips cemented, which were drawn into burrows, 108 were drawn in by their bases, and only 13 by their tips. Thinking that the worms might possibly perceive and dislike the smell or taste of the shell-lac, though this was very improbable, especially after the leaves had been left out during several nights, the tips of the needles of many leaves were tied together with fine thread. Of leaves thus treated 150 were drawn into burrows--123 by the base and 27 by the tied tips; so that between four land five times as many were drawn in by the base as by the tip. It is possible that the short cut-off ends of the thread with which they were tied, may have tempted the worms to drag in a larger proportional number by the tips than when cement was used. Of the leaves with tied and cemented tips taken together (271 in number) 85 per cent. were drawn in by the base and 15 per cent. by the tips. We may therefore infer that it is not the divergence of the two needles which leads worms in a state of nature almost invariably to drag pine-leaves into their burrows by the base.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 17

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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