Nor must we overlook other agencies which in all ordinary cases add to the amount of mould, and which would not be included in the castings that were collected, namely, the fine earth brought up to the surface by burrowing larvae and insects, especially by ants. The earth brought up by moles generally has a somewhat different appearance from vegetable mould; but after a time would not be distinguishable from it. In dry countries, moreover, the wind plays an important part in carrying dust from one place to another, and even in England it must add to the mould on fields near great roads. But in our country these latter several agencies appear to be of quite subordinate importance in comparison with the action of worms.

We have no means of judging how great a weight of earth a single full-sized worm ejects during a year. Hensen estimates that 53,767 worms exist in an acre of land; but this is founded on the number found in gardens, and he believes that only about half as many live in corn-fields. How many live in old pasture land is unknown; but if we assume that half the above number, or 26,886 worms live on such land, then taking from the previous summary 15 tons as the weight of the castings annually thrown up on an acre of land, each worm must annually eject 20 ounces. A full-sized casting at the mouth of a single burrow often exceeds, as we have seen, an ounce in weight; and it is probable that worms eject more than 20 full- sized castings during a year. If they eject annually more than 20 ounces, we may infer that the worms which live in an acre of pasture land must be less than 26,886 in number.

Worms live chiefly in the superficial mould, which is usually from 4 or 5 to 10 and even 12 inches in thickness; and it is this mould which passes over and over again through their bodies and is brought to the surface. But worms occasionally burrow into the subsoil to a much greater depth, and on such occasions they bring up earth from this greater depth; and this process has gone on for countless ages. Therefore the superficial layer of mould would ultimately attain, though at a slower and slower rate, a thickness equal to the depth to which worms ever burrow, were there not other opposing agencies at work which carry away to a lower level some of the finest earth which is continually being brought to the surface by worms. How great a thickness vegetable mould ever attains, I have not had good opportunities for observing; but in the next chapter, when we consider the burial of ancient buildings, some facts will be given on this head. In the two last chapters we shall see that the soil is actually increased, though only to a small degree, through the agency of worms; but their chief work is to sift the finer from the coarser particles, to mingle the whole with vegetable debris, and to saturate it with their intestinal secretions.

Finally, no one who considers the facts given in this chapter--on the burying of small objects and on the sinking of great stones left on the surface--on the vast number of worms which live within a moderate extent of ground on the weight of the castings ejected from the mouth of the same burrow--on the weight of all the castings ejected within a known time on a measured space--will hereafter, as I believe, doubt that worms play an important part in nature.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 38

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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