On February 5 all the petioles which had been drawn into the burrows beneath a Robinia, were pulled up; and after an interval of eleven days, 35 petioles had been again dragged in, 19 by the base, and 16 by the apex. Taking these two lots together, 56 per cent. were drawn in by the base, and 44 per cent. by the apex. As all the softer parts had long ago rotted off, we may feel sure, especially in the latter case, that none had been drawn in as food. At this season, therefore, worms drag these petioles into their burrows indifferently by either end, a slight preference being given to the base. This latter fact may be accounted for by the difficulty of plugging up a burrow with objects so extremely thin as are the upper ends. In support of this view, it may be stated that out of the 16 petioles which had been drawn in by their upper ends, the more attenuated terminal portion of 7 had been previously broken off by some accident.

Triangles of paper.--Elongated triangles were cut out of moderately stiff writing-paper, which was rubbed with raw fat on both sides, so as to prevent their becoming excessively limp when exposed at night to rain and dew. The sides of all the triangles were three inches in length, with the bases of 120 one inch, and of the other 183 half an inch in length. These latter triangles were very narrow or much acuminated. {32} As a check on the observations presently to be given, similar triangles in a damp state were seized by a very narrow pair of pincers at different points and at all inclinations with reference to the margins, and were then drawn into a short tube of the diameter of a worm-burrow. If seized by the apex, the triangle was drawn straight into the tube, with its margins infolded; if seized at some little distance from the apex, for instance at half an inch, this much was doubled back within the tube. So it was with the base and basal angles, though in this case the triangles offered, as might have been expected, much more resistance to being drawn in. If seized near the middle the triangle was doubled up, with the apex and base left sticking out of the tube. As the sides of the triangles were three inches in length, the result of their being drawn into a tube or into a burrow in different ways, may be conveniently divided into three groups: those drawn in by the apex or within an inch of it; those drawn in by the base or within an inch of it; and those drawn in by any point in the middle inch.

In order to see how the triangles would be seized by worms, some in a damp state were given to worms kept in confinement. They were seized in three different manners in the case of both the narrow and broad triangles: viz., by the margin; by one of the three angles, which was often completely engulfed in their mouths; and lastly, by suction applied to any part of the flat surface. If lines parallel to the base and an inch apart, are drawn across a triangle with the sides three inches in length, it will be divided into three parts of equal length. Now if worms seized indifferently by chance any part, they would assuredly seize on the basal part or division far oftener than on either of the two other divisions. For the area of the basal to the apical part is as 5 to 1, so that the chance of the former being drawn into a burrow by suction, will be as 5 to 1, compared with the apical part. The base offers two angles and the apex only one, so that the former would have twice as good a chance (independently of the size of the angles) of being engulfed in a worm's mouth, as would the apex. It should, however, be stated that the apical angle is not often seized by worms; the margin at a little distance on either side being preferred. I judge of this from having found in 40 out of 46 cases in which triangles had been drawn into burrows by their apical ends, that the tip had been doubled back within the burrow for a length of between 1/20 of an inch and 1 inch. Lastly, the proportion between the margins of the basal and apical parts is as 3 to 2 for the broad, and 2.5 to 2 for the narrow triangles. From these several considerations it might certainly have been expected, supposing that worms seized hold of the triangles by chance, that a considerably larger proportion would have been dragged into the burrows by the basal than by the apical part; but we shall immediately see how different was the result.

Triangles of the above specified sizes were scattered on the ground in many places and on many successive nights near worm-burrows, from which the leaves, petioles, twigs, &c., with which they had been plugged, were removed. Altogether 303 triangles were drawn by worms into their burrows: 12 others were drawn in by both ends, but as it was impossible to judge by which end they had been first seized, these are excluded. Of the 303, 62 per cent. had been drawn in by the apex (using this term for all drawn in by the apical part, one inch in length); 15 per cent. by the middle; and 23 per cent. by the basal part.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 19

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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