Earthworms (All About)
The earthworm is one of our most valuable creepy-crawlies. They live in the soil and feed on dead plant material. They recycle this dead plant material by digesting it and returning the nutrients contained back into the soil in a form that can be absorbed by growing plants. As they tunnel through the soil, they form small tunnels which aerate and drain the soil and add to its fertility.Read moreRead less
Farming and gardening would be next to impossible without earthworms. The common earthworm is 30 cm long and is pink in colour. Its body is composed of segments — up to 150 of them and it has stiff hairs called chaetae on the underside of its body which help it to move. They have no eyes so they cannot see, which doesn’t matter as they live surrounded by soil which contains their food. They swallow soil through their mouth and as it passes through their body they digest any organic material in it. The undigested soil itself passes through their body and is deposited as a worm cast.
On warm nights, worms will come up to the surface of the soil and pull down dead leaves into their burrows for digestion. They will also often use the opportunity to find another worm with which to mate. As worms are very abundant in Irish soils this does not present too much of a difficulty although each worm makes sure to keep its tail in its own burrow so that it can conduct a speedy retreat if danger threatens. Like snails and slugs, worms are hermaphrodites — each has male and female organs — but they must mate and exchange sperm before each can lay eggs.
During cold winter months, worms burrow deeply into the ground and become dormant. They are food for many creatures higher up the food chain. Birds such as thrushes and blackbirds love them, they form up to 40% of the diet of badgers, and rooks and jackdaws are expert at finding them in grassy fields. It is not true that if you cut a worm in half you will have two worms. Worms have a head with a rudimentary nervous system and seven hearts at one end and just a tail at the other. If you cut one in half you have a live, foreshortened worm and a wriggling tail that soon stops wriggling as the nerve endings die. So this cruel practice should not be carried out. Earthworms work in compost bins, but another species, the tiger worm (brandling worm) is even more effective.
Things to do
1. Set up a wormery. Get a large transparent jar such as a large sweet jar. Make layers in it of soil, leaves, soil, sand, leaves, soil, sand, a white chalk layer perhaps, right up to the top. Put a final layer of leaves on top. Dampen the whole. Put in some earthworms and close the jar. Cover with black plastic to exclude light and leave for a week. When uncovered the tunnels of the earthworms may be seen. Do not leave uncovered however, as earthworms will move into the centre away from the light. Keep dampened and uncover every few days or so, to see how the layers get mixed up as the worms move about.