Each embankment would tend to extend laterally by the lateral extension of the arrested castings; and animals grazing on a steep slope would almost certainly make use of every prominence at nearly the same level, and would indent the turf between them; and such intermediate indentations would again arrest the castings. An irregular ledge when once formed would also tend to become more regular and horizontal by some of the castings rolling laterally from the higher to the lower parts, which would thus be raised. Any projection beneath a ledge would not afterwards receive disintegrated matter from above, and would tend to be obliterated by rain and other atmospheric agencies. There is some analogy between the formation, as here supposed, of these ledges, and that of the ripples of wind-drifted sand as described by Lyell. {78}

The steep, grass-covered sides of a mountainous valley in Westmoreland, called Grisedale, was marked in many places with innumerable lines of miniature cliffs, with almost horizontal, little ledges at their bases. Their formation was in no way connected with the action of worms, for castings could not anywhere be seen (and their absence is an inexplicable fact), although the turf lay in many places over a considerable thickness of boulder- clay and moraine rubbish. Nor, as far as I could judge, was the formation of these little cliffs at all closely connected with the trampling of cows or sheep. It appeared as if the whole superficial, somewhat argillaceous earth, while partially held together by the roots of the grasses, had slided a little way down the mountain sides; and in thus sliding, had yielded and cracked in horizontal lines, transversely to the slope.

Castings blown to leeward by the wind.--We have seen that moist castings flow, and that disintegrated castings roll down any inclined surface; and we shall now see that castings, recently ejected on level grass-covered surfaces, are blown during gales of wind accompanied by rain to leeward. This has been observed by me many times on many fields during several successive years. After such gales, the castings present a gently inclined and smooth, or sometimes furrowed, surface to windward, while they are steeply inclined or precipitous to leeward, so that they resemble on a miniature scale glacier-ground hillocks of rock. They are often cavernous on the leeward side, from the upper part having curled over the lower part. During one unusually heavy south-west gale with torrents of rain, many castings were wholly blown to leeward, so that the mouths of the burrows were left naked and exposed on the windward side. Recent castings naturally flow down an inclined surface, but on a grassy field, which sloped between 10 degrees and 15 degrees, several were found after a heavy gale blown up the slope. This likewise occurred on another occasion on a part of my lawn where the slope was somewhat less. On a third occasion, the castings on the steep, grass-covered sides of a valley, down which a gale had blown, were directed obliquely instead of straight down the slope; and this was obviously due to the combined action of the wind and gravity. Four castings on my lawn, where the downward inclination was 0 degrees 45 seconds, 1 degree, 3 degrees and 3 degrees 30 seconds (mean 2 degrees 45 seconds) towards the north- east, after a heavy south-west gale with rain, were divided across the mouths of the burrows and weighed in the manner formerly described. The mean weight of the earth below the mouths of burrows and to leeward, was to that above the mouths and on the windward side as 2.75 to 1; whereas we have seen that with several castings which had flowed down slopes having a mean inclination of 9 degrees 26 seconds, and with three castings where the inclination was above 12 degrees; the proportional weight of the earth below to that above the burrows was as only 2 to 1. These several cases show how efficiently gales of wind accompanied by rain act in displacing recently ejected castings. We may therefore conclude that even a moderately strong wind will produce some slight effect on them.

Dry and indurated castings, after their disintegration into small fragments or pellets, are sometimes, probably often, blown by a strong wind to leeward. This was observed on four occasions, but I did not sufficiently attend to this point. One old casting on a gently sloping bank was blown quite away by a strong south-west wind. Dr. King believes that the wind removes the greater part of the old crumbling castings near Nice. Several old castings on my lawn were marked with pins and protected from any disturbance. They were examined after an interval of 10 weeks, during which time the weather had been alternately dry and rainy. Some, which were of a yellowish colour had been washed almost completely away, as could be seen by the colour of the surrounding ground. Others had completely disappeared, and these no doubt had been blown away. Lastly, others still remained and would long remain, as blades of grass had grown through them.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms Page 60

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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