It did not flow bodily down the grass-covered surface of the lawn, which was here inclined at an angle of 16 degrees 20 seconds; nevertheless many particles of the chalk were found three inches below the casting. The experiment was repeated on three other castings on different parts of the lawn, which sloped at 2 degrees 30 seconds, 3 degrees and 6 degrees; and particles of chalk could be seen between 4 and 5 inches below the casting; and after the surface had become dry, particles were found in two cases at a distance of 5 and 6 inches. Several other castings with precipitated chalk placed on their summits were left to the natural action of the rain. In one case, after rain which was not heavy, the casting was longitudinally streaked with white. In two other cases the surface of the ground was rendered somewhat white for a distance of one inch from the casting; and some soil collected at a distance of 2.5 inches, where the slope was 7 degrees, effervesced slightly when placed in acid. After one or two weeks, the chalk was wholly or almost wholly washed away from all the castings on which it had been placed, and these had recovered their natural colour.

It may be here remarked that after very heavy rain shallow pools may be seen on level or nearly level fields, where the soil is not very porous, and the water in them is often slightly muddy; when such little pools have dried, the leaves and blades of grass at their bottoms are generally coated with a thin layer of mud. This mud I believe is derived in large part from recently ejected castings.

Dr. King informs me that the majority of the before described gigantic castings, which he found on a fully exposed, bare, gravelly knoll on the Nilgiri Mountains in India, had been more or less weathered by the previous north-east monsoon; and most of them presented a subsided appearance. The worms here eject their castings only during the rainy season; and at the time of Dr. King's visit no rain had fallen for 110 days. He carefully examined the ground between the place where these huge castings lay, and a little watercourse at the base of the knoll, and nowhere was there any accumulation of fine earth, such as would necessarily have been left by the disintegration of the castings if they had not been wholly removed. He therefore has no hesitation in asserting that the whole of these huge castings are annually washed during the two monsoons (when about 100 inches of rain fall) into the little water-course, and thence into the plains lying below at a depth of 3000 or 4000 feet.

Castings ejected before or during dry weather become hard, sometimes surprisingly hard, from the particles of earth having been cemented together by the intestinal secretions. Frost seems to be less effective in their disintegration than might have been expected. Nevertheless they readily disintegrate into small pellets, after being alternately moistened with rain and again dried. Those which have flowed during rain down a slope, disintegrate in the same manner. Such pellets often roll a little down any sloping surface; their descent being sometimes much aided by the wind. The whole bottom of a broad dry ditch in my grounds, where there were very few fresh castings, was completely covered with these pellets or disintegrated castings, which had rolled down the steep sides, inclined at an angle of 27 degrees.

Near Nice, in places where the great cylindrical castings, previously described, abound, the soil consists of very fine arenaceo-calcareous loam; and Dr. King informs me that these castings are extremely liable to crumble during dry weather into small fragments, which are soon acted on by rain, and then sink down so as to be no longer distinguishable from the surrounding soil. He sent me a mass of such disintegrated castings, collected on the top of a bank, where none could have rolled down from above. They must have been ejected within the previous five or six months, but they now consisted of more or less rounded fragments of all sizes, from 0.75 of an inch in diameter to minute grains and mere dust. Dr. King witnessed the crumbling process whilst drying some perfect castings, which he afterwards sent me. Mr. Scott also remarks on the crumbling of the castings near Calcutta and on the mountains of Sikkim during the hot and dry season.

When the castings near Nice had been ejected on an inclined surface, the disintegrated fragments rolled downwards, without losing their distinctive shape; and in some places could "be collected in basketfuls." Dr. King observed a striking instance of this fact on the Corniche road, where a drain, about 2.5 feet wide and 9 inches deep, had been made to catch the surface drainage from the adjoining hill-side. The bottom of this drain was covered for a distance of several hundred yards, to a depth of from 1.5 to 3 inches, by a layer of broken castings, still retaining their characteristic shape. Nearly all these innumerable fragments had rolled down from above, for extremely few castings had been ejected in the drain itself.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 58

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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