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Tuesday, 19 June 2007
The Earthworm, a Creature that Hides our Past


Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)

By Elaine Morgan

The earthworm, a creature that hides our past as well as its own genius.

Stand by for a dissertation on earthworms. No - don't say ach y fi! My own attitude to them has been transformed in the last couple of weeks. When I've watched archaeologists on Time Team, digging down and finding Saxon remains, I never stopped to wonder who dug those holes to put the villages in. It was worms, and they're at it all the time.

Put a pebble on the ground and worms will wriggle through the soil underneath it and squeeze out worm casts on the surface all round it, until it sinks into the ground just as it would sink into a bog.

Only slower. Darwin was fascinated by them for 40 years. He even travelled to Stonehenge to try to work out how much taller those standing stones must have been before the worms got to work on them. Answer: a lot.

He discovered that worms can't hear, but if you shine a bright light at one or blow cold air at it, it will bolt into its burrow like a rabbit. When it drags a leaf down into its hole it always pulls the narrow end first - yet with no eyes, how does it know which is the narrow end? They're smarter than we think.

What started all this was a leaflet on global warning. As usual, much of it didn't apply to my age group. I'd already giving up flying because I'm too old to enjoy it.

I always shower instead of filling the bath because a shower is easier to get out of than a bath. I'd already lowered the water temperature of the washing machine to 40 degrees.

Now, as advised, it's down to 30. I don't think that'll save many icebergs, but we have to remember the parable of the widow's mite....

There remained the problem of composting. I've always been hopeless at it. I've tried, but the heaps just sat there, looking messy and attracting thousands of woodlice - so now I've invested in a wormery. They deliver this gadget to you with a bagful of live worms.

When I saw one demonstrated on TV, two small girls were helping, and one found a worm that had lost its way, so she christened it Ellie or some such name and kindly restored it to the company of its little friends. These worms love kitchen waste, used tea-bags, hair-clippings, and the cardboard centres of loo rolls, but turn their noses up at oranges and onions. The leaflet also warns against giving them meat - that surprised me, I admit. We used to be told that 'men have died, and worms have eaten them.' Perhaps these are posh upmarket ones that got converted to vegetarianism. The drawback is the time scale. Nothing seems to be happening yet. I've been advised that the pay-off comes in six months' time, and thereafter it will be a thing of beauty and a joy forever. If I remember, I'll give you a progress report in August.

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