Some barrels of bad ale were left on Mr. Miller's land, {52} in the hope of making vinegar, but the vinegar proved bad, and the barrels were upset. It should be premised that acetic acid is so deadly a poison to worms that Perrier found that a glass rod dipped into this acid and then into a considerable body of water in which worms were immersed, invariably killed them quickly. On the morning after the barrels had been upset, "the heaps of worms which lay dead on the ground were so amazing, that if Mr. Miller had not seen them, he could not have thought it possible for such numbers to have existed in the space." As further evidence of the large number of worms which live in the ground, Hensen states that he found in a garden sixty-four open burrows in a space of 14.5 square feet, that is, nine in 2 square feet. But the burrows are sometimes much more numerous, for when digging in a grass-field near Maer Hall, I found a cake of dry earth, as large as my two open hands, which was penetrated by seven burrows, as large as goose-quills.

Weight of the earth ejected from a single burrow, and from all the burrows within a given space.--With respect to the weight of the earth daily ejected by worms, Hensen found that it amounted, in the case of some worms which he kept in confinement, and which he appears to have fed with leaves, to only 0.5 gram, or less than 8 grains per diem. But a very much larger amount must be ejected by worms in their natural state, at the periods when they consume earth as food instead of leaves, and when they are making deep burrows. This is rendered almost certain by the following weights of the castings thrown up at the mouths of single burrows; the whole of which appeared to have been ejected within no long time, as was certainly the case in several instances. The castings were dried (excepting in one specified instance) by exposure during many days to the sun or before a hot fire.


(Weight in ounces given in parenthesis--DP.)

(1.) Down, Kent (sub-soil red clay, full of flints, over-lying the chalk). The largest casting which I could find on the flanks of a steep valley, the sub-soil being here shallow. In this one case, the casting was not well dried (3.98)

(2.) Down.--Largest casting which I could find (consisting chiefly of calcareous matter), on extremely poor pasture land at the bottom of the valley mentioned under (1.) (3.87)

(3.) Down.--A large casting, but not of unusual size, from a nearly level field, poor pasture, laid down in a grass about 35 years before (1.22)

(4.) Down. Average weight of 11 not large castings ejected on a sloping surface on my lawn, after they had suffered some loss of weight from being exposed during a considerable length of time to rain (0.7)

(5.) Near Nice in France.--Average weight of 12 castings of ordinary dimensions, collected by Dr. King on land which had not been mown for a long time and where worms abounded, viz., a lawn protected by shrubberies near the sea; soil sandy and calcareous; these castings had been exposed for some time to rain, before being collected, and must have lost some weight by disintegration, but they still retained their form (1.37)

(6.) The heaviest of the above twelve castings (1.76)

(7.) Lower Bengal.--Average weight of 22 castings, collected by Mr. J. Scott, and stated by him to have been thrown up in the course of one or two nights (1.24)

(8.) The heaviest of the above 22 castings (2.09)

(9.) Nilgiri Mountains, S. India; average weight of the 5 largest castings collected by Dr. King. They had been exposed to the rain of the last monsoon, and must have lost some weight (3.15)

(10.) The heaviest of the above 5 castings (4.34)

In this table we see that castings which had been ejected at the mouth of the same burrow, and which in most cases appeared fresh and always retained their vermiform configuration, generally exceeded an ounce in weight after being dried, and sometimes nearly equalled a quarter of a pound. On the Nilgiri mountains one casting even exceeded this latter weight. The largest castings in England were found on extremely poor pasture-land; and these, as far as I have seen, are generally larger than those on land producing a rich vegetation. It would appear that worms have to swallow a greater amount of earth on poor than on rich land, in order to obtain sufficient nutriment.

With respect to the tower-like castings near Nice (Nos. 5 and 6 in the above table), Dr. King often found five or six of them on a square foot of surface; and these, judging from their average weight, would have weighed together 7.5 ounces; so that the weight of those on a square yard would have been 4 lb. 3.5 oz. Dr. King collected, near the close of the year 1872, all the castings which still retained their vermiform shape, whether broken down or not, from a square foot, in a place abounding with worms, on the summit of a bank, where no castings could have rolled down from above. These castings must have been ejected, as he judged from their appearance in reference to the rainy and dry periods near Nice, within the previous five or six months; they weighed 9.5 oz., or 5 lb.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 35

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Charles Darwin

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