Friday, 20 November 2015
Do You Spend Much Time Thinking About Worms?
No, I thought not. But you might after reading this.
Worms, also known as Ecosystem Engineers, are my latest obsession.
I confess to not spending particularly large amounts of time considering worms before, but now I am thinking about them a lot.
The reason for this new interest is a talk I went to yesterday, which was aimed at farmers improving their soil but which also has ramifications for the world of ecology, particularly the world of ecology that wants to work more productively with the world of farming.
It is fair to say that there has been a degree of mutual distrust between farmers and conservationists over the years, but if we really want to secure a better future for wildlife and ensure we have enough food to feed everyone, we have to find more productive and less suspicious ways of working together.
The little worm, so easily overlooked by so many of us, may just provide the perfect opportunity to begin opening dialogues of this kind. Because is turns out that worms are fascinating creatures, valuable creatures, quite astounding creatures in many ways.
Here are some juicy worm facts.
1. There are three main worm types: the compost worm, the earthworker worm and the root dwelling worm.
2. Compost worms are not the same as the worms that live in your garden soil. If you put compost worms on to your soil, they will up and leave and make their way back to the compost, which is where they like to be. They don't want to eat soil, they want to eat compost.
3. Worms like mild, damp conditions. If the weather is bad they dig deep into the soil and wait it out. Or they die if it's really bad. But the good news is their populations recover fast.
4. Moles chew the bottom off a worm then push all the grit and soil along the worm with their paw and out of the hole, so they can eat the worm without damaging their teeth.
5. Worm babies hatch from cocoons.
6.Big worms can live for 8-9 years in the wild, but have been recorded living up to 20 years in captivity!
7. If you cut a worm in two close to the tail it will survive, if you cut it closer to the head it can't.
8. The presence of earthworms in soil at a good frequency increases crop yields significantly.
9. Worms like a high pH and lots of organic matter to thrive.
10. You get more worms in phosphorous, calcium and clay soils.
11. They don't like sandy soils because it scratches their skin when they move through it.
12. Worms improve nitrate availability in the soil (important for growing crops and preventing it polluting our waterways).
13. 12,000 worms per square metre is the biggest number recorded.
14.The Green Worm lives in manure heaps and mineral rich environments.
15. Aristotle called them 'the intestines of the earth' and Darwin doubted any other creature had played a more important part in the history of the world.
16. Worms can be grey, red, green or stripey.
17.There are 27 UK worm species, 8 of which you are quite likely to find just in your garden.
18. There are 4 species of Compost Worm (they also live in manure and muck heaps) and they work in the top 12cm of topsoil where they love a rich diet of rotting vegetable matter rather than soil. They don't build permanent burrows or tunnels but prefer to just wander randomly wherever there is food. If it gets very cold they burrow further down the soil profile, curl up into a ball and hibernate in a lovely covering of protective slime.
19. Earthworms (2700 species worldwide) are the ones you'll see most often in your garden, especially the big chaps Lumbricus terrestris (a 12cm long worm also known as the Lob Worm or Common Earthworm). They make the soil airy and better for plants to grown in and they create long vertical burrows (up to 3 metres deep) with their poo (casts) on the surface at the top of the hole. They eat soil and especially like leaves. They pop up to look for food at night (go out with a torch especially on a damp mild night and you'll see them all on the surface, but they move quickly and once the light's on them they'll whizz back down their holes) and Darwin noted they will search out the best shaped leaves to bung up their burrows with. Small claim to fame here- apparently, he carried out this research in one of our neighbour's gardens!
20. Root Dwelling Worms are deep burrowers that are widespread in farmland. You're unlikely to see them as they don't come up to the surface. They live among the roots of vegetation.
21. All worms help aerate the soil and recycle rotting matter by tunneling through it and breaking it down (eating it) so that fungi and bacteria can release valuable nutrients and return them to the soil. Where there are larger numbers of worms there will be larger numbers of these essential bacteria and fungi. They also help prevent flooding as water can drain down into the soil through their burrows and help plants to grow as their roots use worm tunnels too.
22. In once acre of land there can be more than a million earthworms.
23. A worm stuck in the sun for an hour will become paralysed and dry out and die, so if you find one help it back to a patch of earth.
24. Worms have tiny bristles on each of their body rings to help anchor them in the soil and crawl along. This is why blackbirds and robins are seen tugging them out, because they can hold on!
25. Worms eat: soil, manure, decomposing organisms, roots and leaves.
26. It takes 500 years to make 1 inch of topsoil and nearly all the antibiotics we use have come from soil organisms.
27. 1 tbsp of soil has more organisms in it than there are people on earth.
28. Worm killing products have been banned for a number of years.
Great stuff, don't you think? Yay for worms!
If you want to know more, have a look at The Earthworm Society's webpage.
I also made two new farming friends yesterday, one who has acres of wild flower meadows bordering some local Chalk Downland and is keen for me to do some wildlife surveys on the farm next year and advise him on how to best manage the land for maximum wildlife benefit, and another who is about to take over a local farm and is likewise keen to find out what she's got living on it so she can look after it. A really interesting day and I met some great people.
Hope you're all having a good week?