As the amount of trituration which the particles of earth undergo in the gizzards of worms possesses some interest (as we shall hereafter see), I endeavoured to obtain evidence on this head by carefully examining many of the fragments which had passed through their alimentary canals. With worms living in a state of nature, it is of course impossible to know how much the fragments may have been worn before they were swallowed. It is, however, clear that worms do not habitually select already rounded particles, for sharply angular bits of flint and of other hard rocks were often found in their gizzards or intestines. On three occasions sharp spines from the stems of rose-bushes were thus found. Worms kept in confinement repeatedly swallowed angular fragments of hard tile, coal, cinders, and even the sharpest fragments of glass. Gallinaceous and struthious birds retain the same stones in their gizzards for a long time, which thus become well rounded; but this does not appear to be the case with worms, judging from the large number of the fragments of tiles, glass beads, stones, &c., commonly found in their castings and intestines. So that unless the same fragments were to pass repeatedly through their gizzards, visible signs of attrition in the fragments could hardly be expected, except perhaps in the case of very soft stones.

I will now give such evidence of attrition as I have been able to collect. In the gizzards of some worms dug out of a thin bed of mould over the chalk, there were many well-rounded small fragments of chalk, and two fragments of the shells of a land-mollusc (as ascertained by their microscopical structure), which latter were not only rounded but somewhat polished. The calcareous concretions formed in the calciferous glands, which are often found in their gizzards, intestines, and occasionally in their castings, when of large size, sometimes appeared to have been rounded; but with all calcareous bodies the rounded appearance may be partly or wholly due to their corrosion by carbonic acid and the humus-acids. In the gizzards of several worms collected in my kitchen garden near a hothouse, eight little fragments of cinders were found, and of these, six appeared more or less rounded, as were two bits of brick; but some other bits were not at all rounded. A farm-road near Abinger Hall had been covered seven years before with brick- rubbish to the depth of about 6 inches; turf had grown over this rubbish on both sides of the road for a width of 18 inches, and on this turf there were innumerable castings. Some of them were coloured of a uniform red owing to the presence of much brick-dust, and they contained many particles of brick and of hard mortar from 1 to 3 mm. in diameter, most of which were plainly rounded; but all these particles may have been rounded before they were protected by the turf and were swallowed, like those on the bare parts of the road which were much worn. A hole in a pasture-field had been filled up with brick-rubbish at the same time, viz., seven years ago, and was now covered with turf; and here the castings contained very many particles of brick, all more or less rounded; and this brick-rubbish, after being shot into the hole, could not have undergone any attrition. Again, old bricks very little broken, together with fragments of mortar, were laid down to form walks, and were then covered with from 4 to 6 inches of gravel; six little fragments of brick were extracted from castings collected on these walks, three of which were plainly worn. There were also very many particles of hard mortar, about half of which were well rounded; and it is not credible that these could have suffered so much corrosion from the action of carbonic acid in the course of only seven years.

Much better evidence of the attrition of hard objects in the gizzards of worms, is afforded by the state of the small fragments of tiles or bricks, and of concrete in the castings thrown up where ancient buildings once stood. As all the mould covering a field passes every few years through the bodies of worms, the same small fragments will probably be swallowed and brought to the surface many times in the course of centuries. It should be premised that in the several following cases, the finer matter was first washed away from the castings, and then all the particles of bricks, tiles and concrete were collected without any selection, and were afterwards examined. Now in the castings ejected between the tesserae on one of the buried floors of the Roman villa at Abinger, there were many particles (from to 2 mm. in diameter) of tiles and concrete, which it was impossible to look at with the naked eye or through a strong lens, and doubt for a moment that they had almost all undergone much attrition. I speak thus after having examined small water-worn pebbles, formed from Roman bricks, which M. Henri de Saussure had the kindness to send me, and which he had extracted from sand and gravel beds, deposited on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, at a former period when the water stood at about two metres above its present level.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book