Oh, Mighty Earthworm

It is a real shame that some people take earthworms for granted just because most of their work is underground and goes unseen. In reality, these humble and unappreciated guardians of the soil do a great deal of good stuff. It is said that in one year, an acre of earthworms can move about 20 tons of earth. By tunneling through the soil, worms break up compacted earth so air and water can circulate freely. However, the earthworm does the most good by the way it eats. They munch on dead leaves, soil and rotting plants, grinding the material in their gizzards. What comes out of the other end is just like pure gold. It increases the amount of nutrients and minerals in the soil by as much as 10 times the value of the initial plant debris. Worm droppings, which are also called “castings”, are the richest food source for the plants. It is estimated that in one decade, earthworm castings can add one inch of rich topsoil. Worms also create great texture in the soil by turning the organic material into humus, and thereby, making the soil moist, loose, and more loamy in texture. Each species of the earthworm has its own niche to occupy and different requirements for survival. However, there are a few ways, which help us to ensure a healthy and active earthworm population in the garden. First (and the most effective way) is to eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides. Earthworms, like other beneficial organisms, suffer greatly from harmful chemicals. Second, keeping the soil moist and high in organic content provides earthworms with food and water. It also offers them protection from the predators as well as providing a more suitable environment. And finally, it is best to avoid disturbing the soil by either completely eliminating or at least reducing tillage as it destroys the earthworm’s permanent burrows. Earlthworms spend most of their lives in the soil and only surface during mating season or rainstorms. Vibrations and light are the two major danger signs to them. They quickly withdraw into the soil as soon as they sense footsteps or light beams. Worms have a lot of natural predators such as robins and moles. To compensate for being a delicacy, worms multiply at an amazing rate. Approximately, each worm produces 2,000 to 3,000 offspring each year. Mating is rather unusual among the worms. Each has both male and female reproductive organs. Two worms start a new generation by lying head-to-tail for a night until cross-fertilization takes place. Then each worm lays eggs independently. There are around 3,000 species of earthworms in the world. Depending on the species, an individual worm can live as long as 15 years. However, with all the predators out there, only a few of them get to be that old. So next time you see a couple of night crawlers or their cousin, the common earthworm, please don’t harm them. They do us a lot of good. Let us return the favor.

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