I will now give a few extracts from Mr. Farrer's notes.

Aug. 26th, 1877; that is, five days after the floor had been cleared. On the previous night there had been some heavy rain, which washed the surface clean, and now the mouths of forty burrows were counted. Parts of the concrete were seen to be solid, and had never been penetrated by worms, and here the rain-water lodged.

Sept. 5th.--Tracks of worms, made during the previous night, could be seen on the surface of the floor, and five or six vermiform castings had been thrown up. These were defaced.

Sept. 12th.--During the last six days, the worms have not been active, though many castings have been ejected in the neighbouring fields; but on this day the earth was a little raised over the mouths of the burrows, or castings were ejected, at ten fresh points. These were defaced. It should be understood that when a fresh burrow is spoken of, this generally means only that an old burrow has been re-opened. Mr. Farrer was repeatedly struck with the pertinacity with which the worms re-opened their old burrows, even when no earth was ejected from them. I have often observed the same fact, and generally the mouths of the burrows are protected by an accumulation of pebbles, sticks or leaves. Mr. Farrer likewise observed that the worms living beneath the floor of the atrium often collected coarse grains of sand, and such little stones as they could find, round the mouths of their burrows.

Sept. 13th; soft wet weather. The mouths of the burrows were re- opened, or castings were ejected, at 31 points; these were all defaced.

Sept. 14th; 34 fresh holes or castings; all defaced.

Sept. 15th; 44 fresh holes, only 5 castings; all defaced.

Sept. 18th; 43 fresh holes, 8 castings; all defaced.

The number of castings on the surrounding fields was now very large.

Sept. 19th; 40 holes, 8 castings; all defaced.

Sept. 22nd; 43 holes, only a few fresh castings; all defaced.

Sept. 23rd; 44 holes, 8 castings.

Sept. 25th; 50 holes, no record of the number of castings.

Oct. 13th; 61 holes, no record of the number of castings.

After an interval of three years, Mr. Farrer, at my request, again looked at the concrete floor, and found the worms still at work.

Knowing what great muscular power worms possess, and seeing how soft the concrete was in many parts, I was not surprised at its having been penetrated by their burrows; but it is a more surprising fact that the mortar between the rough stones of the thick walls, surrounding the rooms, was found by Mr. Farrer to have been penetrated by worms. On August 26th, that is, five days after the ruins had been exposed, he observed four open burrows on the broken summit of the eastern wall (W in Fig. 8); and, on September 15th, other burrows similarly situated were seen. It should also be noted that in the perpendicular side of the trench (which was much deeper than is represented in Fig. 8) three recent burrows were seen, which ran obliquely far down beneath the base of the old wall.

We thus see that many worms lived beneath the floor and the walls of the atrium at the time when the excavations were made; and that they afterwards almost daily brought up earth to the surface from a considerable depth. There is not the slightest reason to doubt that worms have acted in this manner ever since the period when the concrete was sufficiently decayed to allow them to penetrate it; and even before that period they would have lived beneath the floor, as soon as it became pervious to rain, so that the soil beneath was kept damp. The floor and the walls must therefore have been continually undermined; and fine earth must have been heaped on them during many centuries, perhaps for a thousand years. If the burrows beneath the floor and walls, which it is probable were formerly as numerous as they now are, had not collapsed in the course of time in the manner formerly explained, the underlying earth would have been riddled with passages like a sponge; and as this was not the case, we may feel sure that they have collapsed. The inevitable result of such collapsing during successive centuries, will have been the slow subsidence of the floor and of the walls, and their burial beneath the accumulated worm-castings. The subsidence of a floor, whilst it still remains nearly horizontal, may at first appear improbable; but the case presents no more real difficulty than that of loose objects strewed on the surface of a field, which, as we have seen, become buried several inches beneath the surface in the course of a few years, though still forming a horizontal layer parallel to the surface. The burial of the paved and level path on my lawn, which took place under my own observation, is an analogous case. Even those parts of the concrete floor which the worms could not penetrate would almost certainly have been undermined, and would have sunk, like the great stones at Leith Hill Place and Stonehenge, for the soil would have been damp beneath them. But the rate of sinking of the different parts would not have been quite equal, and the floor was not quite level.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 41

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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