If, however, a boulder is of such huge dimensions, that the earth beneath is kept dry, such earth will not be inhabited by worms, and the boulder will not sink into the ground.

A lime-kiln formerly stood in a grass-field near Leith Hill Place in Surrey, and was pulled down 35 years before my visit; all the loose rubbish had been carted away, excepting three large stones of quartzose sandstone, which it was thought might hereafter be of some use. An old workman remembered that they had been left on a bare surface of broken bricks and mortar, close to the foundations of the kiln; but the whole surrounding surface is now covered with turf and mould. The two largest of these stones had never since been moved; nor could this easily have been done, as, when I had them removed, it was the work of two men with levers. One of these stones, and not the largest, was 64 inches long, 17 inches broad, and from 9 to 10 inches in thickness. Its lower surface was somewhat protuberant in the middle; and this part still rested on broken bricks and mortar, showing the truth of the old workman's account. Beneath the brick rubbish the natural sandy soil, full of fragments of sandstone was found; and this could have yielded very little, if at all, to the weight of the stone, as might have been expected if the sub-soil had been clay. The surface of the field, for a distance of about 9 inches round the stone, gradually sloped up to it, and close to the stone stood in most places about 4 inches above the surrounding ground. The base of the stone was buried from 1 to 2 inches beneath the general level, and the upper surface projected about 8 inches above this level, or about 4 inches above the sloping border of turf. After the removal of the stone it became evident that one of its pointed ends must at first have stood clear above the ground by some inches, but its upper surface was now on a level with the surrounding turf. When the stone was removed, an exact cast of its lower side, forming a shallow crateriform hollow, was left, the inner surface of which consisted of fine black mould, excepting where the more protuberant parts rested on the brick-rubbish. A transverse section of this stone, together with its bed, drawn from measurements made after it had been displaced, is here given on a scale of 0.5 inch to a foot (Fig. 6). The turf-covered border which sloped up to the stone, consisted of fine vegetable mould, in one part 7 inches in thickness. This evidently consisted of worm-castings, several of which had been recently ejected. The whole stone had sunk in the thirty-five years, as far as I could judge, about 1.5 inch; and this must have been due to the brick-rubbish beneath the more protuberant parts having been undermined by worms. At this rate the upper surface of the stone, if it had been left undisturbed, would have sunk to the general level of the field in 247 years; but before this could have occurred, some earth would have been washed down by heavy rain from the castings on the raised border of turf over the upper surface of the stone.

The second stone was larger that the one just described, viz., 67 inches in length, 39 in breadth, and 15 in thickness. The lower surface was nearly flat, so that the worms must soon have been compelled to eject their castings beyond its circumference. The stone as a whole had sunk about 2 inches into the ground. At this rate it would have required 262 years for its upper surface to have sunk to the general level of the field. The upwardly sloping, turf-covered border round the stone was broader than in the last case, viz., from 14 to 16 inches; and why this should be so, I could see no reason. In most parts this border was not so high as in the last case, viz., from 2 to 2.5 inches, but in one place it was as much as 5.5. Its average height close to the stone was probably about 3 inches, and it thinned out to nothing. If so, a layer of fine earth, 15 inches in breadth and 1.5 inch in average thickness, of sufficient length to surround the whole of the much elongated slab, must have been brought up by the worms in chief part from beneath the stone in the course of 35 years. This amount would be amply sufficient to account for its having sunk about 2 inches into the ground; more especially if we bear in mind that a good deal of the finest earth would have been washed by heavy rain from the castings ejected on the sloping border down to the level of the field. Some fresh castings were seen close to the stone. Nevertheless, on digging a large hole to a depth of 18 inches where the stone had lain, only two worms and a few burrows were seen, although the soil was damp and seemed favourable for worms. There were some large colonies of ants beneath the stone, and possibly since their establishment the worms had decreased in number.

The third stone was only about half as large as the others; and two strong boys could together have rolled it over. I have no doubt that it had been rolled over at a moderately recent time, for it now lay at some distance from the two other stones at the bottom of a little adjoining slope.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 33

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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