By this test the cobra showed some intelligence; but this would have been much plainer if on a second occasion he had drawn a toad out of a hole by its leg. The Sphex failed signally in this respect. Now if worms try to drag objects into their burrows first in one way and then in another, until they at last succeed, they profit, at least in each particular instance, by experience.

But evidence has been advanced showing that worms do not habitually try to draw objects into their burrows in many different ways. Thus half-decayed lime-leaves from their flexibility could have been drawn in by their middle or basal parts, and were thus drawn into the burrows in considerable numbers; yet a large majority were drawn in by or near the apex. The petioles of the Clematis could certainly have been drawn in with equal ease by the base and apex; yet three times and in certain cases five times as many were drawn in by the apex as by the base. It might have been thought that the foot-stalks of leaves would have tempted the worms as a convenient handle; yet they are not largely used, except when the base of the blade is narrower than the apex. A large number of the petioles of the ash are drawn in by the base; but this part serves the worms as food. In the case of pine-leaves worms plainly show that they at least do not seize the leaf by chance; but their choice does not appear to be determined by the divergence of the two needles, and the consequent advantage or necessity of drawing them into their burrows by the base. With respect to the triangles of paper, those which had been drawn in by the apex rarely had their bases creased or dirty; and this shows that the worms had not often first tried to drag them in by this end.

If worms are able to judge, either before drawing or after having drawn an object close to the mouths of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape. This they probably acquire by touching it in many places with the anterior extremity of their bodies, which serves as a tactile organ. It may be well to remember how perfect the sense of touch becomes in a man when born blind and deaf, as are worms. If worms have the power of acquiring some notion, however rude, of the shape of an object and of their burrows, as seems to be the case, they deserve to be called intelligent; for they then act in nearly the same manner as would a man under similar circumstances.

To sum up, as chance does not determine the manner in which objects are drawn into the burrows, and as the existence of specialized instincts for each particular case cannot be admitted, the first and most natural supposition is that worms try all methods until they at last succeed; but many appearances are opposed to such a supposition. One alternative alone is left, namely, that worms, although standing low in the scale of organization, possess some degree of intelligence. This will strike every one as very improbable; but it may be doubted whether we know enough about the nervous system of the lower animals to justify our natural distrust of such a conclusion. With respect to the small size of the cerebral ganglia, we should remember what a mass of inherited knowledge, with some power of adapting means to an end, is crowded into the minute brain of a worker-ant.

Means by which worms excavate their burrows.--This is effected in two ways; by pushing away the earth on all sides, and by swallowing it. In the former case, the worm inserts the stretched out and attenuated anterior extremity of its body into any little crevice, or hole; and then, as Perrier remarks, {36} the pharynx is pushed forwards into this part, which consequently swells and pushes away the earth on all sides. The anterior extremity thus serves as a wedge. It also serves, as we have before seen, for prehension and suction, and as a tactile organ. A worm was placed on loose mould, and it buried itself in between two and three minutes. On another occasion four worms disappeared in 15 minutes between the sides of the pot and the earth, which had been moderately pressed down. On a third occasion three large worms and a small one were placed on loose mould well mixed with fine sand and firmly pressed down, and they all disappeared, except the tail of one, in 35 minutes. On a fourth occasion six large worms were placed on argillaceous mud mixed with sand firmly pressed down, and they disappeared, except the extreme tips of the tails of two of them, in 40 minutes. In none of these cases, did the worms swallow, as far as could be seen, any earth. They generally entered the ground close to the sides of the pot.

A pot was next filled with very fine ferruginous sand, which was pressed down, well watered, and thus rendered extremely compact. A large worm left on the surface did not succeed in penetrating it for some hours, and did not bury itself completely until 25 hrs. 40 min. had elapsed. This was effected by the sand being swallowed, as was evident by the large quantity ejected from the vent, long before the whole body had disappeared.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 22

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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