The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the action of worms with observations of their habits by Charles Darwin

Scanned and proofed by David Price THE FORMATION OF VEGETABLE MOULD THROUGH THE ACTION OF WORMS WITH OBSERVATIONS ON THEIR HABITS. by Charles Darwin INTRODUCTION. The share which worms have taken in the formation of the layer of vegetable mould, which covers the whole surface of the land in every moderately humid country, is
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  • 1881
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Scanned and proofed by David Price


by Charles Darwin


The share which worms have taken in the formation of the layer of vegetable mould, which covers the whole surface of the land in every moderately humid country, is the subject of the present volume. This mould is generally of a blackish colour and a few inches in thickness. In different districts it differs but little in appearance, although it may rest on various subsoils. The uniform fineness of the particles of which it is composed is one of its chief characteristic features; and this may be well observed in any gravelly country, where a recently-ploughed field immediately adjoins one which has long remained undisturbed for pasture, and where the vegetable mould is exposed on the sides of a ditch or hole. The subject may appear an insignificant one, but we shall see that it possesses some interest; and the maxim “de minimis non curat lex,” does not apply to science. Even Elie de Beaumont, who generally undervalues small agencies and their accumulated effects, remarks: {1} “La couche tres-mince de la terre vegetale est un monument d’une haute antiquite, et, par le fait de sa permanence, un objet digne d’occuper le geologue, et capable de lui fournir des remarques interessantes.” Although the superficial layer of vegetable mould as a whole no doubt is of the highest antiquity, yet in regard to its permanence, we shall hereafter see reason to believe that its component particles are in most cases removed at not a very slow rate, and are replaced by others due to the disintegration of the underlying materials.

As I was led to keep in my study during many months worms in pots filled with earth, I became interested in them, and wished to learn how far they acted consciously, and how much mental power they displayed. I was the more desirous to learn something on this head, as few observations of this kind have been made, as far as I know, on animals so low in the scale of organization and so poorly provided with sense-organs, as are earth-worms.

In the year 1837, a short paper was read by me before the Geological Society of London, {2} “On the Formation of Mould,” in which it was shown that small fragments of burnt marl, cinders, &c., which had been thickly strewed over the surface of several meadows, were found after a few years lying at the depth of some inches beneath the turf, but still forming a layer. This apparent sinking of superficial bodies is due, as was first suggested to me by Mr. Wedgwood of Maer Hall in Staffordshire, to the large quantity of fine earth continually brought up to the surface by worms in the form of castings. These castings are sooner or later spread out and cover up any object left on the surface. I was thus led to conclude that all the vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many times through, and will again pass many times through, the intestinal canals of worms. Hence the term “animal mould” would be in some respects more appropriate than that commonly used of “vegetable mould.”

Ten years after the publication of my paper, M. D’Archiac, evidently influenced by the doctrines of Elie de Beaumont, wrote about my “singuliere theorie,” and objected that it could apply only to “les prairies basses et humides;” and that “les terres labourees, les bois, les prairies elevees, n’apportent aucune preuve a l’appui de cette maniere de voir.” {3} But M. D’Archiac must have thus argued from inner consciousness and not from observation, for worms abound to an extraordinary degree in kitchen gardens where the soil is continually worked, though in such loose soil they generally deposit their castings in any open cavities or within their old burrows instead of on the surface. Hensen estimates that there are about twice as many worms in gardens as in corn-fields. {4} With respect to “prairies elevees,” I do not know how it may be in France, but nowhere in England have I seen the ground so thickly covered with castings as on commons, at a height of several hundred feet above the sea. In woods again, if the loose leaves in autumn are removed, the whole surface will be found strewed with castings. Dr. King, the superintendent of the Botanic Garden in Calcutta, to whose kindness I am indebted for many observations on earth-worms, informs me that he found, near Nancy in France, the bottom of the State forests covered over many acres with a spongy layer, composed of dead leaves and innumerable worm- castings. He there heard the Professor of “Amenagement des Forets” lecturing to his pupils, and pointing out this case as a “beautiful example of the natural cultivation of the soil; for year after year the thrown-up castings cover the dead leaves; the result being a rich humus of great thickness.”

In the year 1869, Mr. Fish {5} rejected my conclusions with respect to the part which worms have played in the formation of vegetable mould, merely on account of their assumed incapacity to do so much work. He remarks that “considering their weakness and their size, the work they are represented to have accomplished is stupendous.” Here we have an instance of that inability to sum up the effects of a continually recurrent cause, which has often retarded the progress of science, as formerly in the case of geology, and more recently in that of the principle of evolution.

Although these several objections seemed to me to have no weight, yet I resolved to make more observations of the same kind as those published, and to attack the problem on another side; namely, to weigh all the castings thrown up within a given time in a measured space, instead of ascertaining the rate at which objects left on the surface were buried by worms. But some of my observations have been rendered almost superfluous by an admirable paper by Hensen, already alluded to, which appeared in 1877. {6} Before entering on details with respect to the castings, it will be advisable to give some account of the habits of worms from my own observations and from those of other naturalists.

[FIRST EDITION, October 10th, 1881.]


Nature of the sites inhabited–Can live long under water– Nocturnal–Wander about at night–Often lie close to the mouths of their burrows, and are thus destroyed in large numbers by birds– Structure–Do not possess eyes, but can distinguish between light and darkness–Retreat rapidly when brightly illuminated, not by a reflex action–Power of attention–Sensitive to heat and cold– Completely deaf–Sensitive to vibrations and to touch–Feeble power of smell–Taste–Mental qualities–Nature of food–Omnivorous– Digestion–Leaves before being swallowed, moistened with a fluid of the nature of the pancreatic secretion–Extra-stomachal digestion– Calciferous glands, structure of–Calcareous concretions formed in the anterior pair of glands–The calcareous matter primarily an excretion, but secondarily serves to neutralise the acids generated during the digestive process.

Earth-worms are distributed throughout the world under the form of a few genera, which externally are closely similar to one another. The British species of Lumbricus have never been carefully monographed; but we may judge of their probable number from those inhabiting neighbouring countries. In Scandinavia there are eight species, according to Eisen; {7} but two of these rarely burrow in the ground, and one inhabits very wet places or even lives under the water. We are here concerned only with the kinds which bring up earth to the surface in the form of castings. Hoffmeister says that the species in Germany are not well known, but gives the same number as Eisen, together with some strongly marked varieties. {8}

Earth-worms abound in England in many different stations. Their castings may be seen in extraordinary numbers on commons and chalk- downs, so as almost to cover the whole surface, where the soil is poor and the grass short and thin. But they are almost or quite as numerous in some of the London parks, where the grass grows well and the soil appears rich. Even on the same field worms are much more frequent in some places than in others, without any visible difference in the nature of the soil. They abound in paved court- yards close to houses; and an instance will be given in which they had burrowed through the floor of a very damp cellar. I have seen worms in black peat in a boggy field; but they are extremely rare, or quite absent in the drier, brown, fibrous peat, which is so much valued by gardeners. On dry, sandy or gravelly tracks, where heath with some gorse, ferns, coarse grass, moss and lichens alone grow, hardly any worms can be found. But in many parts of England, wherever a path crosses a heath, its surface becomes covered with a fine short sward. Whether this change of vegetation is due to the taller plants being killed by the occasional trampling of man and animals, or to the soil being occasionally manured by the droppings from animals, I do not know. {9} On such grassy paths worm- castings may often be seen. On a heath in Surrey, which was carefully examined, there were only a few castings on these paths, where they were much inclined; but on the more level parts, where a bed of fine earth had been washed down from the steeper parts and had accumulated to a thickness of a few inches, worm-castings abounded. These spots seemed to be overstocked with worms, so that they had been compelled to spread to a distance of a few feet from the grassy paths, and here their castings had been thrown up among the heath; but beyond this limit, not a single casting could be found. A layer, though a thin one, of fine earth, which probably long retains some moisture, is in all cases, as I believe, necessary for their existence; and the mere compression of the soil appears to be in some degree favourable to them, for they often abound in old gravel walks, and in foot-paths across fields.

Beneath large trees few castings can be found during certain seasons of the year, and this is apparently due to the moisture having been sucked out of the ground by the innumerable roots of the trees; for such places may be seen covered with castings after the heavy autumnal rains. Although most coppices and woods support many worms, yet in a forest of tall and ancient beech-trees in Knole Park, where the ground beneath was bare of all vegetation, not a single casting could be found over wide spaces, even during the autumn. Nevertheless, castings were abundant on some grass- covered glades and indentations which penetrated this forest. On the mountains of North Wales and on the Alps, worms, as I have been informed, are in most places rare; and this may perhaps be due to the close proximity of the subjacent rocks, into which worms cannot burrow during the winter so as to escape being frozen. Dr. McIntosh, however, found worm-castings at a height of 1500 feet on Schiehallion in Scotland. They are numerous on some hills near Turin at from 2000 to 3000 feet above the sea, and at a great altitude on the Nilgiri Mountains in South India and on the Himalaya.

Earth-worms must be considered as terrestrial animals, though they are still in one sense semi-aquatic, like the other members of the great class of annelids to which they belong. M. Perrier found that their exposure to the dry air of a room for only a single night was fatal to them. On the other hand he kept several large worms alive for nearly four months, completely submerged in water. {10} During the summer when the ground is dry, they penetrate to a considerable depth and cease to work, as they do during the winter when the ground is frozen. Worms are nocturnal in their habits, and at night may be seen crawling about in large numbers, but usually with their tails still inserted in their burrows. By the expansion of this part of their bodies, and with the help of the short, slightly reflexed bristles, with which their bodies are armed, they hold so fast that they can seldom be dragged out of the ground without being torn into pieces. {11} During the day they remain in their burrows, except at the pairing season, when those which inhabit adjoining burrows expose the greater part of their bodies for an hour or two in the early morning. Sick individuals, which are generally affected by the parasitic larvae of a fly, must also be excepted, as they wander about during the day and die on the surface. After heavy rain succeeding dry weather, an astonishing number of dead worms may sometimes be seen lying on the ground. Mr. Galton informs me that on one such occasion (March, 1881), the dead worms averaged one for every two and a half paces in length on a walk in Hyde Park, four paces in width. He counted no less than 45 dead worms in one place in a length of sixteen paces. From the facts above given, it is not probable that these worms could have been drowned, and if they had been drowned they would have perished in their burrows. I believe that they were already sick, and that their deaths were merely hastened by the ground being flooded.

It has often been said that under ordinary circumstances healthy worms never, or very rarely, completely leave their burrows at night; but this is an error, as White of Selborne long ago knew. In the morning, after there has been heavy rain, the film of mud or of very fine sand over gravel-walks is often plainly marked with their tracks. I have noticed this from August to May, both months included, and it probably occurs during the two remaining months of the year when they are wet. On these occasions, very few dead worms could anywhere be seen. On January 31, 1881, after a long- continued and unusually severe frost with much snow, as soon as a thaw set in, the walks were marked with innumerable tracks. On one occasion, five tracks were counted crossing a space of only an inch square. They could sometimes be traced either to or from the mouths of the burrows in the gravel-walks, for distances between 2 or 3 up to 15 yards. I have never seen two tracks leading to the same burrow; nor is it likely, from what we shall presently see of their sense-organs, that a worm could find its way back to its burrow after having once left it. They apparently leave their burrows on a voyage of discovery, and thus they find new sites to inhabit.

Morren states {12} that worms often lie for hours almost motionless close beneath the mouths of their burrows. I have occasionally noticed the same fact with worms kept in pots in the house; so that by looking down into their burrows, their heads could just be seen. If the ejected earth or rubbish over the burrows be suddenly removed, the end of the worm’s body may very often be seen rapidly retreating. This habit of lying near the surface leads to their destruction to an immense extent. Every morning during certain seasons of the year, the thrushes and blackbirds on all the lawns throughout the country draw out of their holes an astonishing number of worms, and this they could not do, unless they lay close to the surface. It is not probable that worms behave in this manner for the sake of breathing fresh air, for we have seen that they can live for a long time under water. I believe that they lie near the surface for the sake of warmth, especially in the morning; and we shall hereafter find that they often coat the mouths of their burrows with leaves, apparently to prevent their bodies from coming into close contact with the cold damp earth. It is said that they completely close their burrows during the winter.

Structure.–A few remarks must be made on this subject. The body of a large worm consists of from 100 to 200 almost cylindrical rings or segments, each furnished with minute bristles. The muscular system is well developed. Worms can crawl backwards as well as forwards, and by the aid of their affixed tails can retreat with extraordinary rapidity into their burrows. The mouth is situated at the anterior end of the body, and is provided with a little projection (lobe or lip, as it has been variously called) which is used for prehension. Internally, behind the mouth, there is a strong pharynx, shown in the accompanying diagram (Fig. 1) which is pushed forwards when the animal eats, and this part corresponds, according to Perrier, with the protrudable trunk or proboscis of other annelids. The pharynx leads into the oesophagus, on each side of which in the lower part there are three pairs of large glands, which secrete a surprising amount of carbonate of lime. These calciferous glands are highly remarkable, for nothing like them is known in any other animal. Their use will be discussed when we treat of the digestive process. In most of the species, the oesophagus is enlarged into a crop in front of the gizzard. This latter organ is lined with a smooth thick chitinous membrane, and is surrounded by weak longitudinal, but powerful transverse muscles. Perrier saw these muscles in energetic action; and, as he remarks, the trituration of the food must be chiefly effected by this organ, for worms possess no jaws or teeth of any kind. Grains of sand and small stones, from the 1/20 to a little more than the 1/10 inch in diameter, may generally be found in their gizzards and intestines. As it is certain that worms swallow many little stones, independently of those swallowed while excavating their burrows, it is probable that they serve, like mill-stones, to triturate their food. The gizzard opens into the intestine, which runs in a straight course to the vent at the posterior end of the body. The intestine presents a remarkable structure, the typhlosolis, or, as the old anatomists called it, an intestine within an intestine; and Claparede {13} has shown that this consists of a deep longitudinal involution of the walls of the intestine, by which means an extensive absorbent surface is gained.

The circulatory system is well developed. Worms breathe by their skin, as they do not possess any special respiratory organs. The two sexes are united in the same individual, but two individuals pair together. The nervous system is fairly well developed; and the two almost confluent cerebral ganglia are situated very near to the anterior end of the body.

Senses.–Worms are destitute of eyes, and at first I thought that they were quite insensible to light; for those kept in confinement were repeatedly observed by the aid of a candle, and others out of doors by the aid of a lantern, yet they were rarely alarmed, although extremely timid animals. Other persons have found no difficulty in observing worms at night by the same means. {14}

Hoffmeister, however, states {15} that worms, with the exception of a few individuals, are extremely sensitive to light; but he admits that in most cases a certain time is requisite for its action. These statements led me to watch on many successive nights worms kept in pots, which were protected from currents of air by means of glass plates. The pots were approached very gently, in order that no vibration of the floor should be caused. When under these circumstances worms were illuminated by a bull’s-eye lantern having slides of dark red and blue glass, which intercepted so much light that they could be seen only with some difficulty, they were not at all affected by this amount of light, however long they were exposed to it. The light, as far as I could judge, was brighter than that from the full moon. Its colour apparently made no difference in the result. When they were illuminated by a candle, or even by a bright paraffin lamp, they were not usually affected at first. Nor were they when the light was alternately admitted and shut off. Sometimes, however, they behaved very differently, for as soon as the light fell on them, they withdrew into their burrows with almost instantaneous rapidity. This occurred perhaps once out of a dozen times. When they did not withdraw instantly, they often raised the anterior tapering ends of their bodies from the ground, as if their attention was aroused or as if surprise was felt; or they moved their bodies from side to side as if feeling for some object. They appeared distressed by the light; but I doubt whether this was really the case, for on two occasions after withdrawing slowly, they remained for a long time with their anterior extremities protruding a little from the mouths of their burrows, in which position they were ready for instant and complete withdrawal.

When the light from a candle was concentrated by means of a large lens on the anterior extremity, they generally withdrew instantly; but this concentrated light failed to act perhaps once out of half a dozen trials. The light was on one occasion concentrated on a worm lying beneath water in a saucer, and it instantly withdrew into its burrow. In all cases the duration of the light, unless extremely feeble, made a great difference in the result; for worms left exposed before a paraffin lamp or a candle invariably retreated into their burrows within from five to fifteen minutes; and if in the evening the pots were illuminated before the worms had come out of their burrows, they failed to appear.

From the foregoing facts it is evident that light affects worms by its intensity and by its duration. It is only the anterior extremity of the body, where the cerebral ganglia lie, which is affected by light, as Hoffmeister asserts, and as I observed on many occasions. If this part is shaded, other parts of the body may be fully illuminated, and no effect will be produced. As these animals have no eyes, we must suppose that the light passes through their skins, and in some manner excites their cerebral ganglia. It appeared at first probable that the different manner in which they were affected on different occasions might be explained, either by the degree of extension of their skin and its consequent transparency, or by some particular incident of the light; but I could discover no such relation. One thing was manifest, namely, that when worms were employed in dragging leaves into their burrows or in eating them, and even during the short intervals whilst they rested from their work, they either did not perceive the light or were regardless of it; and this occurred even when the light was concentrated on them through a large lens. So, again, whilst they are paired, they will remain for an hour or two out of their burrows, fully exposed to the morning light; but it appears from what Hoffmeister says that a light will occasionally cause paired individuals to separate.

When a worm is suddenly illuminated and dashes like a rabbit into its burrow–to use the expression employed by a friend–we are at first led to look at the action as a reflex one. The irritation of the cerebral ganglia appears to cause certain muscles to contract in an inevitable manner, independently of the will or consciousness of the animal, as if it were an automaton. But the different effect which a light produced on different occasions, and especially the fact that a worm when in any way employed and in the intervals of such employment, whatever set of muscles and ganglia may then have been brought into play, is often regardless of light, are opposed to the view of the sudden withdrawal being a simple reflex action. With the higher animals, when close attention to some object leads to the disregard of the impressions which other objects must be producing on them, we attribute this to their attention being then absorbed; and attention implies the presence of a mind. Every sportsman knows that he can approach animals whilst they are grazing, fighting or courting, much more easily than at other times. The state, also, of the nervous system of the higher animals differs much at different times, for instance, a horse is much more readily startled at one time than at another. The comparison here implied between the actions of one of the higher animals and of one so low in the scale as an earth-worm, may appear far-fetched; for we thus attribute to the worm attention and some mental power, nevertheless I can see no reason to doubt the justice of the comparison.

Although worms cannot be said to possess the power of vision, their sensitiveness to light enables them to distinguish between day and night; and they thus escape extreme danger from the many diurnal animals which prey on them. Their withdrawal into their burrows during the day appears, however, to have become an habitual action; for worms kept in pots covered by glass plates, over which sheets of black paper were spread, and placed before a north-east window, remained during the day-time in their burrows and came out every night; and they continued thus to act for a week. No doubt a little light may have entered between the sheets of glass and the blackened paper; but we know from the trials with coloured glass, that worms are indifferent to a small amount of light.

Worms appear to be less sensitive to moderate radiant heat than to a bright light. I judge of this from having held at different times a poker heated to dull redness near some worms, at a distance which caused a very sensible degree of warmth in my hand. One of them took no notice; a second withdrew into its burrow, but not quickly; the third and fourth much more quickly, and the fifth as quickly as possible. The light from a candle, concentrated by a lens and passing through a sheet of glass which would intercept most of the heat-rays, generally caused a much more rapid retreat than did the heated poker. Worms are sensitive to a low temperature, as may be inferred from their not coming out of their burrows during a frost.

Worms do not possess any sense of hearing. They took not the least notice of the shrill notes from a metal whistle, which was repeatedly sounded near them; nor did they of the deepest and loudest tones of a bassoon. They were indifferent to shouts, if care was taken that the breath did not strike them. When placed on a table close to the keys of a piano, which was played as loudly as possible, they remained perfectly quiet.

Although they are indifferent to undulations in the air audible by us, they are extremely sensitive to vibrations in any solid object. When the pots containing two worms which had remained quite indifferent to the sound of the piano, were placed on this instrument, and the note C in the bass clef was struck, both instantly retreated into their burrows. After a time they emerged, and when G above the line in the treble clef was struck they again retreated. Under similar circumstances on another night one worm dashed into its burrow on a very high note being struck only once, and the other worm when C in the treble clef was struck. On these occasions the worms were not touching the sides of the pots, which stood in saucers; so that the vibrations, before reaching their bodies, had to pass from the sounding board of the piano, through the saucer, the bottom of the pot and the damp, not very compact earth on which they lay with their tails in their burrows. They often showed their sensitiveness when the pot in which they lived, or the table on which the pot stood, was accidentally and lightly struck; but they appeared less sensitive to such jars than to the vibrations of the piano; and their sensitiveness to jars varied much at different times.

It has often been said that if the ground is beaten or otherwise made to tremble, worms believe that they are pursued by a mole and leave their burrows. From one account that I have received, I have no doubt that this is often the case; but a gentleman informs me that he lately saw eight or ten worms leave their burrows and crawl about the grass on some boggy land on which two men had just trampled while setting a trap; and this occurred in a part of Ireland where there were no moles. I have been assured by a Volunteer that he has often seen many large earth-worms crawling quickly about the grass, a few minutes after his company had fired a volley with blank cartridges. The Peewit (Tringa vanellus, Linn.) seems to know instinctively that worms will emerge if the ground is made to tremble; for Bishop Stanley states (as I hear from Mr. Moorhouse) that a young peewit kept in confinement used to stand on one leg and beat the turf with the other leg until the worms crawled out of their burrows, when they were instantly devoured. Nevertheless, worms do not invariably leave their burrows when the ground is made to tremble, as I know by having beaten it with a spade, but perhaps it was beaten too violently.

The whole body of a worm is sensitive to contact. A slight puff of air from the mouth causes an instant retreat. The glass plates placed over the pots did not fit closely, and blowing through the very narrow chinks thus left, often sufficed to cause a rapid retreat. They sometimes perceived the eddies in the air caused by quickly removing the glass plates. When a worm first comes out of its burrow, it generally moves the much extended anterior extremity of its body from side to side in all directions, apparently as an organ of touch; and there is some reason to believe, as we shall see in the next chapter, that they are thus enabled to gain a general notion of the form of an object. Of all their senses that of touch, including in this term the perception of a vibration, seems much the most highly developed.

In worms the sense of smell apparently is confined to the perception of certain odours, and is feeble. They were quite indifferent to my breath, as long as I breathed on them very gently. This was tried, because it appeared possible that they might thus be warned of the approach of an enemy. They exhibited the same indifference to my breath whilst I chewed some tobacco, and while a pellet of cotton-wool with a few drops of millefleurs perfume or of acetic acid was kept in my mouth. Pellets of cotton- wool soaked in tobacco juice, in millefleurs perfume, and in paraffin, were held with pincers and were waved about within two or three inches of several worms, but they took no notice. On one or two occasions, however, when acetic acid had been placed on the pellets, the worms appeared a little uneasy, and this was probably due to the irritation of their skins. The perception of such unnatural odours would be of no service to worms; and as such timid creatures would almost certainly exhibit some signs of any new impression, we may conclude that they did not perceive these odours.

The result was different when cabbage-leaves and pieces of onion were employed, both of which are devoured with much relish by worms. Small square pieces of fresh and half-decayed cabbage- leaves and of onion bulbs were on nine occasions buried in my pots, beneath about 0.25 of an inch of common garden soil; and they were always discovered by the worms. One bit of cabbage was discovered and removed in the course of two hours; three were removed by the next morning, that is, after a single night; two others after two nights; and the seventh bit after three nights. Two pieces of onion were discovered and removed after three nights. Bits of fresh raw meat, of which worms are very fond, were buried, and were not discovered within forty-eight hours, during which time they had not become putrid. The earth above the various buried objects was generally pressed down only slightly, so as not to prevent the emission of any odour. On two occasions, however, the surface was well watered, and was thus rendered somewhat compact. After the bits of cabbage and onion had been removed, I looked beneath them to see whether the worms had accidentally come up from below, but there was no sign of a burrow; and twice the buried objects were laid on pieces of tin-foil which were not in the least displaced. It is of course possible that the worms whilst moving about on the surface of the ground, with their tails affixed within their burrows, may have poked their heads into the places where the above objects were buried; but I have never seen worms acting in this manner. Some pieces of cabbage-leaf and of onion were twice buried beneath very fine ferruginous sand, which was slightly pressed down and well watered, so as to be rendered very compact, and these pieces were never discovered. On a third occasion the same kind of sand was neither pressed down nor watered, and the pieces of cabbage were discovered and removed after the second night. These several facts indicate that worms possess some power of smell; and that they discover by this means odoriferous and much-coveted kinds of food.

It may be presumed that all animals which feed on various substances possess the sense of taste, and this is certainly the case with worms. Cabbage-leaves are much liked by worms; and it appears that they can distinguish between different varieties; but this may perhaps be owing to differences in their texture. On eleven occasions pieces of the fresh leaves of a common green variety and of the red variety used for pickling were given them, and they preferred the green, the red being either wholly neglected or much less gnawed. On two other occasions, however, they seemed to prefer the red. Half-decayed leaves of the red variety and fresh leaves of the green were attacked about equally. When leaves of the cabbage, horse-radish (a favourite food) and of the onion were given together, the latter were always, and manifestly preferred. Leaves of the cabbage, lime-tree, Ampelopsis, parsnip (Pastinaca), and celery (Apium) were likewise given together; and those of the celery were first eaten. But when leaves of cabbage, turnip, beet, celery, wild cherry and carrots were given together, the two latter kinds, especially those of the carrot, were preferred to all the others, including those of celery. It was also manifest after many trials that wild cherry leaves were greatly preferred to those of the lime-tree and hazel (Corylus). According to Mr. Bridgman the half-decayed leaves of Phlox verna are particularly liked by worms. {16}

Pieces of the leaves of cabbage, turnip, horse-radish and onion were left on the pots during 22 days, and were all attacked and had to be renewed; but during the whole of this time leaves of an Artemisia and of the culinary sage, thyme and mint, mingled with the above leaves, were quite neglected excepting those of the mint, which were occasionally and very slightly nibbled. These latter four kinds of leaves do not differ in texture in a manner which could make them disagreeable to worms; they all have a strong taste, but so have the four first mentioned kinds of leaves; and the wide difference in the result must be attributed to a preference by the worms for one taste over another.

Mental Qualities.–There is little to be said on this head. We have seen that worms are timid. It may be doubted whether they suffer as much pain when injured, as they seem to express by their contortions. Judging by their eagerness for certain kinds of food, they must enjoy the pleasure of eating. Their sexual passion is strong enough to overcome for a time their dread of light. They perhaps have a trace of social feeling, for they are not disturbed by crawling over each other’s bodies, and they sometimes lie in contact. According to Hoffmeister they pass the winter either singly or rolled up with others into a ball at the bottom of their burrows. {17} Although worms are so remarkably deficient in the several sense-organs, this does not necessarily preclude intelligence, as we know from such cases as those of Laura Bridgman; and we have seen that when their attention is engaged, they neglect impressions to which they would otherwise have attended; and attention indicates the presence of a mind of some kind. They are also much more easily excited at certain times than at others. They perform a few actions instinctively, that is, all the individuals, including the young, perform such actions in nearly the same fashion. This is shown by the manner in which the species of Perichaeta eject their castings, so as to construct towers; also by the manner in which the burrows of the common earth-worm are smoothly lined with fine earth and often with little stones, and the mouths of their burrows with leaves. One of their strongest instincts is the plugging up the mouths of their burrows with various objects; and very young worms act in this manner. But some degree of intelligence appears, as we shall see in the next chapter, to be exhibited in this work,–a result which has surprised me more than anything else in regard to worms.

Food and Digestion.–Worms are omnivorous. They swallow an enormous quantity of earth, out of which they extract any digestible matter which it may contain; but to this subject I must recur. They also consume a large number of half-decayed leaves of all kinds, excepting a few which have an unpleasant taste or are too tough for them; likewise petioles, peduncles, and decayed flowers. But they will also consume fresh leaves, as I have found by repeated trials. According to Morren {18} they will eat particles of sugar and liquorice; and the worms which I kept drew many bits of dry starch into their burrows, and a large bit had its angles well rounded by the fluid poured out of their mouths. But as they often drag particles of soft stone, such as of chalk, into their burrows, I feel some doubt whether the starch was used as food. Pieces of raw and roasted meat were fixed several times by long pins to the surface of the soil in my pots, and night after night the worms could be seen tugging at them, with the edges of the pieces engulfed in their mouths, so that much was consumed. Raw fat seems to be preferred even to raw meat or to any other substance which was given them, and much was consumed. They are cannibals, for the two halves of a dead worm placed in two of the pots were dragged into the burrows and gnawed; but as far as I could judge, they prefer fresh to putrid meat, and in so far I differ from Hoffmeister.

Leon Fredericq states {19} that the digestive fluid of worms is of the same nature as the pancreatic secretion of the higher animals; and this conclusion agrees perfectly with the kinds of food which worms consume. Pancreatic juice emulsifies fat, and we have just seen how greedily worms devour fat; it dissolves fibrin, and worms eat raw meat; it converts starch into grape-sugar with wonderful rapidity, and we shall presently show that the digestive fluid of worms acts on starch. {20} But they live chiefly on half-decayed leaves; and these would be useless to them unless they could digest the cellulose forming the cell-walls; for it is well known that all other nutritious substances are almost completely withdrawn from leaves, shortly before they fall off. It has, however, now been ascertained that some forms of cellulose, though very little or not at all attacked by the gastric secretion of the higher animals, are acted on by that from the pancreas. {21}

The half-decayed or fresh leaves which worms intend to devour, are dragged into the mouths of their burrows to a depth of from one to three inches, and are then moistened with a secreted fluid. It has been assumed that this fluid serves to hasten their decay; but a large number of leaves were twice pulled out of the burrows of worms and kept for many weeks in a very moist atmosphere under a bell-glass in my study; and the parts which had been moistened by the worms did not decay more quickly in any plain manner than the other parts. When fresh leaves were given in the evening to worms kept in confinement and examined early on the next morning, therefore not many hours after they had been dragged into the burrows, the fluid with which they were moistened, when tested with neutral litmus paper, showed an alkaline reaction. This was repeatedly found to be the case with celery, cabbage and turnip leaves. Parts of the same leaves which had not been moistened by the worms, were pounded with a few drops of distilled water, and the juice thus extracted was not alkaline. Some leaves, however, which had been drawn into burrows out of doors, at an unknown antecedent period, were tried, and though still moist, they rarely exhibited even a trace of alkaline reaction.

The fluid, with which the leaves are bathed, acts on them whilst they are fresh or nearly fresh, in a remarkable manner; for it quickly kills and discolours them. Thus the ends of a fresh carrot-leaf, which had been dragged into a burrow, were found after twelve hours of a dark brown tint. Leaves of celery, turnip, maple, elm, lime, thin leaves of ivy, and, occasionally those of the cabbage were similarly acted on. The end of a leaf of Triticum repens, still attached to a growing plant, had been drawn into a burrow, and this part was dark brown and dead, whilst the rest of the leaf was fresh and green. Several leaves of lime and elm removed from burrows out of doors were found affected in different degrees. The first change appears to be that the veins become of a dull reddish-orange. The cells with chlorophyll next lose more or less completely their green colour, and their contents finally become brown. The parts thus affected often appeared almost black by reflected light; but when viewed as a transparent object under the microscope, minute specks of light were transmitted, and this was not the case with the unaffected parts of the same leaves. These effects, however, merely show that the secreted fluid is highly injurious or poisonous to leaves; for nearly the same effects were produced in from one to two days on various kinds of young leaves, not only by artificial pancreatic fluid, prepared with or without thymol, but quickly by a solution of thymol by itself. On one occasion leaves of Corylus were much discoloured by being kept for eighteen hours in pancreatic fluid, without any thymol. With young and tender leaves immersion in human saliva during rather warm weather, acted in the same manner as the pancreatic fluid, but not so quickly. The leaves in all these cases often became infiltrated with the fluid.

Large leaves from an ivy plant growing on a wall were so tough that they could not be gnawed by worms, but after four days they were affected in a peculiar manner by the secretion poured out of their mouths. The upper surfaces of the leaves, over which the worms had crawled, as was shown by the dirt left on them, were marked in sinuous lines, by either a continuous or broken chain of whitish and often star-shaped dots, about 2 mm. in diameter. The appearance thus presented was curiously like that of a leaf, into which the larva of some minute insect had burrowed. But my son Francis, after making and examining sections, could nowhere find that the cell-walls had been broken down or that the epidermis had been penetrated. When the section passed through the whitish dots, the grains of chlorophyll were seen to be more or less discoloured, and some of the palisade and mesophyll cells contained nothing but broken down granular matter. These effects must be attributed to the transudation of the secretion through the epidermis into the cells.

The secretion with which worms moisten leaves likewise acts on the starch-granules within the cells. My son examined some leaves of the ash and many of the lime, which had fallen off the trees and had been partly dragged into worm-burrows. It is known that with fallen leaves the starch-grains are preserved in the guard-cells of the stomata. Now in several cases the starch had partially or wholly disappeared from these cells, in the parts which had been moistened by the secretion; while it was still well preserved in the other parts of the same leaves. Sometimes the starch was dissolved out of only one of the two guard-cells. The nucleus in one case had disappeared, together with the starch-granules. The mere burying of lime-leaves in damp earth for nine days did not cause the destruction of the starch-granules. On the other hand, the immersion of fresh lime and cherry leaves for eighteen hours in artificial pancreatic fluid, led to the dissolution of the starch- granules in the guard-cells as well as in the other cells.

From the secretion with which the leaves are moistened being alkaline, and from its acting both on the starch-granules and on the protoplasmic contents of the cells, we may infer that it resembles in nature not saliva, {22} but pancreatic secretion; and we know from Fredericq that a secretion of this kind is found in the intestines of worms. As the leaves which are dragged into the burrows are often dry and shrivelled, it is indispensable for their disintegration by the unarmed mouths of worms that they should first be moistened and softened; and fresh leaves, however soft and tender they may be, are similarly treated, probably from habit. The result is that they are partially digested before they are taken into the alimentary canal. I am not aware of any other case of extra-stomachal digestion having been recorded. The boa- constrictor is said to bathe its prey with saliva, but this is doubtful; and it is done solely for the sake of lubricating its prey. Perhaps the nearest analogy may be found in such plants as Drosera and Dionaea; for here animal matter is digested and converted into peptone not within a stomach, but on the surfaces of the leaves.

Calciferous Glands.–These glands (see Fig. 1), judging from their size and from their rich supply of blood-vessels, must be of much importance to the animal. But almost as many theories have been advanced on their use as there have been observers. They consist of three pairs, which in the common earth-worm debouch into the alimentary canal in advance of the gizzard, but posteriorly to it in Urochaeta and some other genera. {23} The two posterior pairs are formed by lamellae, which, according to Claparede, are diverticula from the oesophagus. {24} These lamellae are coated with a pulpy cellular layer, with the outer cells lying free in infinite numbers. If one of these glands is punctured and squeezed, a quantity of white pulpy matter exudes, consisting of these free cells. They are minute, and vary in diameter from 2 to 6 microns. They contain in their centres a little excessively fine granular matter; but they look so like oil globules that Claparede and others at first treated them with ether. This produces no effect; but they are quickly dissolved with effervescence in acetic acid, and when oxalate of ammonia is added to the solution a white precipitate is thrown down. We may therefore conclude that they contain carbonate of lime. If the cells are immersed in a very little acid, they become more transparent, look like ghosts, and are soon lost to view; but if much acid is added, they disappear instantly. After a very large number have been dissolved, a flocculent residue is left, which apparently consists of the delicate ruptured cell-walls. In the two posterior pairs of glands the carbonate of lime contained in the cells occasionally aggregates into small rhombic crystals or into concretions, which lie between the lamellae; but I have seen only one case, and Claparede only a very few such cases.

The two anterior glands differ a little in shape from the four posterior ones, by being more oval. They differ also conspicuously in generally containing several small, or two or three larger, or a single very large concretion of carbonate of lime, as much as 1.5 mm. in diameter. When a gland includes only a few very small concretions, or, as sometimes happens, none at all, it is easily overlooked. The large concretions are round or oval, and exteriorly almost smooth. One was found which filled up not only the whole gland, as is often the case, but its neck; so that it resembled an olive-oil flask in shape. These concretions when broken are seen to be more or less crystalline in structure. How they escape from the gland is a marvel; but that they do escape is certain, for they are often found in the gizzard, intestines, and in the castings of worms, both with those kept in confinement and those in a state of nature.

Claparede says very little about the structure of the two anterior glands, and he supposes that the calcareous matter of which the concretions are formed is derived from the four posterior glands. But if an anterior gland which contains only small concretions is placed in acetic acid and afterwards dissected, or if sections are made of such a gland without being treated with acid, lamellae like those in the posterior glands and coated with cellular matter could be plainly seen, together with a multitude of free calciferous cells readily soluble in acetic acid. When a gland is completely filled with a single large concretion, there are no free cells, as these have been all consumed in forming the concretion. But if such a concretion, or one of only moderately large size, is dissolved in acid, much membranous matter is left, which appears to consist of the remains of the formerly active lamellae. After the formation and expulsion of a large concretion, new lamellae must be developed in some manner. In one section made by my son, the process had apparently commenced, although the gland contained two rather large concretions, for near the walls several cylindrical and oval pipes were intersected, which were lined with cellular matter and were quite filled with free calciferous cells. A great enlargement in one direction of several oval pipes would give rise to the lamellae.

Besides the free calciferous cells in which no nucleus was visible, other and rather larger free cells were seen on three occasions; and these contained a distinct nucleus and nucleolus. They were only so far acted on by acetic acid that the nucleus was thus rendered more distinct. A very small concretion was removed from between two of the lamellae within an anterior gland. It was imbedded in pulpy cellular matter, with many free calciferous cells, together with a multitude of the larger, free, nucleated cells, and these latter cells were not acted on by acetic acid, while the former were dissolved. From this and other such cases I am led to suspect that the calciferous cells are developed from the larger nucleated ones; but how this was effected was not ascertained.

When an anterior gland contains several minute concretions, some of these are generally angular or crystalline in outline, while the greater number are rounded with an irregular mulberry-like surface. Calciferous cells adhered to many parts of these mulberry-like masses, and their gradual disappearance could be traced while they still remained attached. It was thus evident that the concretions are formed from the lime contained within the free calciferous cells. As the smaller concretions increase in size, they come into contact and unite, thus enclosing the now functionless lamellae; and by such steps the formation of the largest concretions could be followed. Why the process regularly takes place in the two anterior glands, and only rarely in the four posterior glands, is quite unknown. Morren says that these glands disappear during the winter; and I have seen some instances of this fact, and others in which either the anterior or posterior glands were at this season so shrunk and empty, that they could be distinguished only with much difficulty.

With respect to the function of the calciferous glands, it is probable that they primarily serve as organs of excretion, and secondarily as an aid to digestion. Worms consume many fallen leaves; and it is known that lime goes on accumulating in leaves until they drop off the parent-plant, instead of being re-absorbed into the stem or roots, like various other organic and inorganic substances. {25} The ashes of a leaf of an acacia have been known to contain as much as 72 per cent. of lime. Worms therefore would be liable to become charged with this earth, unless there were some special means for its excretion; and the calciferous glands are well adapted for this purpose. The worms which live in mould close over the chalk, often have their intestines filled with this substance, and their castings are almost white. Here it is evident that the supply of calcareous matter must be super-abundant. Nevertheless with several worms collected on such a site, the calciferous glands contained as many free calciferous cells, and fully as many and large concretions, as did the glands of worms which lived where there was little or no lime; and this indicates that the lime is an excretion, and not a secretion poured into the alimentary canal for some special purpose.

On the other hand, the following considerations render it highly probable that the carbonate of lime, which is excreted by the glands, aids the digestive process under ordinary circumstances. Leaves during their decay generate an abundance of various kinds of acids, which have been grouped together under the term of humus acids. We shall have to recur to this subject in our fifth chapter, and I need here only say that these acids act strongly on carbonate of lime. The half-decayed leaves which are swallowed in such large quantities by worms would, therefore, after they have been moistened and triturated in the alimentary canal, be apt to produce such acids. And in the case of several worms, the contents of the alimentary canal were found to be plainly acid, as shown by litmus paper. This acidity cannot be attributed to the nature of the digestive fluid, for pancreatic fluid is alkaline; and we have seen that the secretion which is poured out of the mouths of worms for the sake of preparing the leaves for consumption, is likewise alkaline. The acidity can hardly be due to uric acid, as the contents of the upper part of the intestine were often acid. In one case the contents of the gizzard were slightly acid, those of the upper intestines being more plainly acid. In another case the contents of the pharynx were not acid, those of the gizzard doubtfully so, while those of the intestine were distinctly acid at a distance of 5 cm. below the gizzard. Even with the higher herbivorous and omnivorous animals, the contents of the large intestine are acid. “This, however, is not caused by any acid secretion from the mucous membrane; the reaction of the intestinal walls in the larger as in the small intestine is alkaline. It must therefore arise from acid fermentations going on in the contents themselves . . . In Carnivora the contents of the coecum are said to be alkaline, and naturally the amount of fermentation will depend largely on the nature of the food.” {26}

With worms not only the contents of the intestines, but their ejected matter or the castings, are generally acid. Thirty castings from different places were tested, and with three or four exceptions were found to be acid; and the exceptions may have been due to such castings not having been recently ejected; for some which were at first acid, were on the following morning, after being dried and again moistened, no longer acid; and this probably resulted from the humus acids being, as is known to be the case, easily decomposed. Five fresh castings from worms which lived in mould close over the chalk, were of a whitish colour and abounded with calcareous matter; and these were not in the least acid. This shows how effectually carbonate of lime neutralises the intestinal acids. When worms were kept in pots filled with fine ferruginous sand, it was manifest that the oxide of iron, with which the grains of silex were coated, had been dissolved and removed from them in the castings.

The digestive fluid of worms resembles in its action, as already stated, the pancreatic secretion of the higher animals; and in these latter, “pancreatic digestion is essentially alkaline; the action will not take place unless some alkali be present; and the activity of an alkaline juice is arrested by acidification, and hindered by neutralization.” {27} Therefore it seems highly probable that the innumerable calciferous cells, which are poured from the four posterior glands into the alimentary canal of worms, serve to neutralise more or less completely the acids there generated by the half-decayed leaves. We have seen that these cells are instantly dissolved by a small quantity of acetic acid, and as they do not always suffice to neutralise the contents of even the upper part of the alimentary canal, the lime is perhaps aggregated into concretions in the anterior pair of glands, in order that some may be carried down to the posterior parts of the intestine, where these concretions would be rolled about amongst the acid contents. The concretions found in the intestines and in the castings often have a worn appearance, but whether this is due to some amount of attrition or of chemical corrosion could not be told. Claparede believes that they are formed for the sake of acting as mill-stones, and of thus aiding in the trituration of the food. They may give some aid in this way; but I fully agree with Perrier that this must be of quite subordinate importance, seeing that the object is already attained by stones being generally present in the gizzards and intestines of worms.


Manner in which worms seize objects–Their power of suction–The instinct of plugging up the mouths of their burrows–Stones piled over the burrows–The advantages thus gained–Intelligence shown by worms in their manner of plugging up their burrows–Various kinds of leaves and other objects thus used–Triangles of paper–Summary of reasons for believing that worms exhibit some intelligence– Means by which they excavate their burrows, by pushing away the earth and swallowing it–Earth also swallowed for the nutritious matter which it contains–Depth to which worms burrow, and the construction of their burrows–Burrows lined with castings, and in the upper part with leaves–The lowest part paved with little stones or seeds–Manner in which the castings are ejected–The collapse of old burrows–Distribution of worms–Tower-like castings in Bengal–Gigantic castings on the Nilgiri Mountains–Castings ejected in all countries.

In the pots in which worms were kept, leaves were pinned down to the soil, and at night the manner in which they were seized could be observed. The worms always endeavoured to drag the leaves towards their burrows; and they tore or sucked off small fragments, whenever the leaves were sufficiently tender. They generally seized the thin edge of a leaf with their mouths, between the projecting upper and lower lip; the thick and strong pharynx being at the same time, as Perrier remarks, pushed forward within their bodies, so as to afford a point of resistance for the upper lip. In the case of broad flat objects they acted in a wholly different manner. The pointed anterior extremity of the body, after being brought into contact with an object of this kind, was drawn within the adjoining rings, so that it appeared truncated and became as thick as the rest of the body. This part could then be seen to swell a little; and this, I believe, is due to the pharynx being pushed a little forwards. Then by a slight withdrawal of the pharynx or by its expansion, a vacuum was produced beneath the truncated slimy end of the body whilst in contact with the object; and by this means the two adhered firmly together. {28} That under these circumstances a vacuum was produced was plainly seen on one occasion, when a large worm lying beneath a flaccid cabbage leaf tried to drag it away; for the surface of the leaf directly over the end of the worm’s body became deeply pitted. On another occasion a worm suddenly lost its hold on a flat leaf; and the anterior end of the body was momentarily seen to be cup-formed. Worms can attach themselves to an object beneath water in the same manner; and I saw one thus dragging away a submerged slice of an onion-bulb.

The edges of fresh or nearly fresh leaves affixed to the ground were often nibbled by the worms; and sometimes the epidermis and all the parenchyma on one side was gnawed completely away over a considerable space; the epidermis alone on the opposite side being left quite clean. The veins were never touched, and leaves were thus sometimes partly converted into skeletons. As worms have no teeth and as their mouths consist of very soft tissue, it may be presumed that they consume by means of suction the edges and the parenchyma of fresh leaves, after they have been softened by the digestive fluid. They cannot attack such strong leaves as those of sea-kale or large and thick leaves of ivy; though one of the latter after it had become rotten was reduced in parts to the state of a skeleton.

Worms seize leaves and other objects, not only to serve as food, but for plugging up the mouths of their burrows; and this is one of their strongest instincts. They sometimes work so energetically that Mr. D. F. Simpson, who has a small walled garden where worms abound in Bayswater, informs me that on a calm damp evening he there heard so extraordinary a rustling noise from under a tree from which many leaves had fallen, that he went out with a light and discovered that the noise was caused by many worms dragging the dry leaves and squeezing them into the burrows. Not only leaves, but petioles of many kinds, some flower-peduncles, often decayed twigs of trees, bits of paper, feathers, tufts of wool and horse- hairs are dragged into their burrows for this purpose. I have seen as many as seventeen petioles of a Clematis projecting from the mouth of one burrow, and ten from the mouth of another. Some of these objects, such as the petioles just named, feathers, &c., are never gnawed by worms. In a gravel-walk in my garden I found many hundred leaves of a pine-tree (P. austriaca or nigricans) drawn by their bases into burrows. The surfaces by which these leaves are articulated to the branches are shaped in as peculiar a manner as is the joint between the leg-bones of a quadruped; and if these surfaces had been in the least gnawed, the fact would have been immediately visible, but there was no trace of gnawing. Of ordinary dicotyledonous leaves, all those which are dragged into burrows are not gnawed. I have seen as many as nine leaves of the lime-tree drawn into the same burrow, and not nearly all of them had been gnawed; but such leaves may serve as a store for future consumption. Where fallen leaves are abundant, many more are sometimes collected over the mouth of a burrow than can be used, so that a small pile of unused leaves is left like a roof over those which have been partly dragged in.

A leaf in being dragged a little way into a cylindrical burrow is necessarily much folded or crumpled. When another leaf is drawn in, this is done exteriorly to the first one, and so on with the succeeding leaves; and finally all become closely folded and pressed together. Sometimes the worm enlarges the mouth of its burrow, or makes a fresh one close by, so as to draw in a still larger number of leaves. They often or generally fill up the interstices between the drawn-in leaves with moist viscid earth ejected from their bodies; and thus the mouths of the burrows are securely plugged. Hundreds of such plugged burrows may be seen in many places, especially during the autumnal and early winter months. But, as will hereafter be shown, leaves are dragged into the burrows not only for plugging them up and for food, but for the sake of lining the upper part or mouth.

When worms cannot obtain leaves, petioles, sticks, &c., with which to plug up the mouths of their burrows, they often protect them by little heaps of stones; and such heaps of smooth rounded pebbles may frequently be seen on gravel-walks. Here there can be no question about food. A lady, who was interested in the habits of worms, removed the little heaps of stones from the mouths of several burrows and cleared the surface of the ground for some inches all round. She went out on the following night with a lantern, and saw the worms with their tails fixed in their burrows, dragging the stones inwards by the aid of their mouths, no doubt by suction. “After two nights some of the holes had 8 or 9 small stones over them; after four nights one had about 30, and another 34 stones.” {29} One stone–which had been dragged over the gravel-walk to the mouth of a burrow weighed two ounces; and this proves how strong worms are. But they show greater strength in sometimes displacing stones in a well-trodden gravel-walk; that they do so, may be inferred from the cavities left by the displaced stones being exactly filled by those lying over the mouths of adjoining burrows, as I have myself observed.

Work of this kind is usually performed during the night; but I have occasionally known objects to be drawn into the burrows during the day. What advantage the worms derive from plugging up the mouths of their burrows with leaves, &c., or from piling stones over them, is doubtful. They do not act in this manner at the times when they eject much earth from their burrows; for their castings then serve to cover the mouths. When gardeners wish to kill worms on a lawn, it is necessary first to brush or rake away the castings from the surface, in order that the lime-water may enter the burrows. {30} It might be inferred from this fact that the mouths are plugged up with leaves, &c., to prevent the entrance of water during heavy rain; but it may be urged against this view that a few, loose, well-rounded stones are ill-adapted to keep out water. I have moreover seen many burrows in the perpendicularly cut turf-edgings to gravel-walks, into which water could hardly flow, as well plugged as burrows on a level surface. It is not probable that the plugs or piles of stones serve to conceal the burrows from scolopendras, which, according to Hoffmeister, {31} are the bitterest enemies of worms, or from the larger species of Carabus and Staphylinus which attack them ferociously, for these animals are nocturnal, and the burrows are opened at night. May not worms when the mouth of the burrow is protected be able to remain with safety with their heads close to it, which we know that they like to do, but which costs so many of them their lives? Or may not the plugs check the free ingress of the lowest stratum of air, when chilled by radiation at night, from the surrounding ground and herbage? I am inclined to believe in this latter view: firstly, because when worms were kept in pots in a room with a fire, in which case cold air could not enter the burrows, they plugged them up in a slovenly manner; and secondarily, because they often coat the upper part of their burrows with leaves, apparently to prevent their bodies from coming into close contact with the cold damp earth. Mr. E. Parfitt has suggested to me that the mouths of the burrows are closed in order that the air within them may be kept thoroughly damp, and this seems the most probable explanation of the habit. But the plugging-up process may serve for all the above purposes.

Whatever the motive may be, it appears that worms much dislike leaving the mouths of their burrows open. Nevertheless they will reopen them at night, whether or not they can afterwards close them. Numerous open burrows may be seen on recently-dug ground, for in this case the worms eject their castings in cavities left in the ground, or in the old burrows instead of piling them over the mouths of their burrows, and they cannot collect objects on the surface by which the mouths might be protected. So again on a recently disinterred pavement of a Roman villa at Abinger (hereafter to be described) the worms pertinaciously opened their burrows almost every night, when these had been closed by being trampled on, although they were rarely able to find a few minute stones wherewith to protect them.

Intelligence shown by worms in their manner of plugging up their burrows.–If a man had to plug up a small cylindrical hole, with such objects as leaves, petioles or twigs, he would drag or push them in by their pointed ends; but if these objects were very thin relatively to the size of the hole, he would probably insert some by their thicker or broader ends. The guide in his case would be intelligence. It seemed therefore worth while to observe carefully how worms dragged leaves into their burrows; whether by their tips or bases or middle parts. It seemed more especially desirable to do this in the case of plants not natives to our country; for although the habit of dragging leaves into their burrows is undoubtedly instinctive with worms, yet instinct could not tell them how to act in the case of leaves about which their progenitors knew nothing. If, moreover, worms acted solely through instinct or an unvarying inherited impulse, they would draw all kinds of leaves into their burrows in the same manner. If they have no such definite instinct, we might expect that chance would determine whether the tip, base or middle was seized. If both these alternatives are excluded, intelligence alone is left; unless the worm in each case first tries many different methods, and follows that alone which proves possible or the most easy; but to act in this manner and to try different methods makes a near approach to intelligence.

In the first place 227 withered leaves of various kinds, mostly of English plants, were pulled out of worm-burrows in several places. Of these, 181 had been drawn into the burrows by or near their tips, so that the foot-stalk projected nearly upright from the mouth of the burrow; 20 had been drawn in by their bases, and in this case the tips projected from the burrows; and 26 had been seized near the middle, so that these had been drawn in transversely and were much crumpled. Therefore 80 per cent. (always using the nearest whole number) had been drawn in by the tip, 9 per cent. by the base or foot-stalk, and 11 per cent. transversely or by the middle. This alone is almost sufficient to show that chance does not determine the manner in which leaves are dragged into the burrows.

Of the above 227 leaves, 70 consisted of the fallen leaves of the common lime-tree, which is almost certainly not a native of England. These leaves are much acuminated towards the tip, and are very broad at the base with a well-developed foot-stalk. They are thin and quite flexible when half-withered. Of the 70, 79 per cent. had been drawn in by or near the tip; 4 per cent. by or near the base; and 17 per cent. transversely or by the middle. These proportions agree very closely, as far as the tip is concerned, with those before given. But the percentage drawn in by the base is smaller, which may be attributed to the breadth of the basal part of the blade. We here, also, see that the presence of a foot- stalk, which it might have been expected would have tempted the worms as a convenient handle, has little or no influence in determining the manner in which lime leaves are dragged into the burrows. The considerable proportion, viz., 17 per cent., drawn in more or less transversely depends no doubt on the flexibility of these half-decayed leaves. The fact of so many having been drawn in by the middle, and of some few having been drawn in by the base, renders it improbable that the worms first tried to draw in most of the leaves by one or both of these methods, and that they afterwards drew in 79 per cent. by their tips; for it is clear that they would not have failed in drawing them in by the base or middle.

The leaves of a foreign plant were next searched for, the blades of which were not more pointed towards the apex than towards the base. This proved to be the case with those of a laburnum (a hybrid between Cytisus alpinus and laburnum) for on doubling the terminal over the basal half, they generally fitted exactly; and when there was any difference, the basal half was a little the narrower. It might, therefore, have been expected that an almost equal number of these leaves would have been drawn in by the tip and base, or a slight excess in favour of the latter. But of 73 leaves (not included in the first lot of 227) pulled out of worm-burrows, 63 per cent. had been drawn in by the tip; 27 per cent. by the base, and 10 per cent. transversely. We here see that a far larger proportion, viz., 27 per cent. were drawn in by the base than in the case of lime leaves, the blades of which are very broad at the base, and of which only 4 per cent. had thus been drawn in. We may perhaps account for the fact of a still larger proportion of the laburnum leaves not having been drawn in by the base, by worms having acquired the habit of generally drawing in leaves by their tips and thus avoiding the foot-stalk. For the basal margin of the blade in many kinds of leaves forms a large angle with the foot- stalk; and if such a leaf were drawn in by the foot-stalk, the basal margin would come abruptly into contact with the ground on each side of the burrow, and would render the drawing in of the leaf very difficult.

Nevertheless worms break through their habit of avoiding the foot- stalk, if this part offers them the most convenient means for drawing leaves into their burrows. The leaves of the endless hybridised varieties of the Rhododendron vary much in shape; some are narrowest towards the base and others towards the apex. After they have fallen off, the blade on each side of the midrib often becomes curled up while drying, sometimes along the whole length, sometimes chiefly at the base, sometimes towards the apex. Out of 28 fallen leaves on one bed of peat in my garden, no less than 23 were narrower in the basal quarter than in the terminal quarter of their length; and this narrowness was chiefly due to the curling in of the margins. Out of 36 fallen leaves on another bed, in which different varieties of the Rhododendron grew, only 17 were narrower towards the base than towards the apex. My son William, who first called my attention to this case, picked up 237 fallen leaves in his garden (where the Rhododendron grows in the natural soil) and of these 65 per cent. could have been drawn by worms into their burrows more easily by the base or foot-stalk than by the tip; and this was partly due to the shape of the leaf and in a less degree to the curling in of the margins: 27 per cent. could have been drawn in more easily by the tip than by the base: and 8 per cent. with about equal ease by either end. The shape of a fallen leaf ought to be judged of before one end has been drawn into a burrow, for after this has happened, the free end, whether it be the base or apex, will dry more quickly than the end imbedded in the damp ground; and the exposed margins of the free end will consequently tend to become more curled inwards than they were when the leaf was first seized by the worm. My son found 91 leaves which had been dragged by worms into their burrows, though not to a great depth; of these 66 per cent. had been drawn in by the base or foot-stalk; and 34 per cent, by the tip. In this case, therefore, the worms judged with a considerable degree of correctness how best to draw the withered leaves of this foreign plant into their burrows; notwithstanding that they had to depart from their usual habit of avoiding the foot-stalk.

On the gravel-walks in my garden a very large number of leaves of three species of Pinus (P. austriaca, nigricans and sylvestris) are regularly drawn into the mouths of worm burrows. These leaves consist of two so-called needles, which are of considerable length in the two first and short in the last named species, and are united to a common base; and it is by this part that they are almost invariably drawn into the burrows. I have seen only two or at most three exceptions to this rule with worms in a state of nature. As the sharply pointed needles diverge a little, and as several leaves are drawn into the same burrow, each tuft forms a perfect chevaux de frise. On two occasions many of these tufts were pulled up in the evening, but by the following morning fresh leaves had been pulled in, and the burrows were again well protected. These leaves could not be dragged into the burrows to any depth, except by their bases, as a worm cannot seize hold of the two needles at the same time, and if one alone were seized by the apex, the other would be pressed against the ground and would resist the entry of the seized one. This was manifest in the above mentioned two or three exceptional cases. In order, therefore, that worms should do their work well, they must drag pine-leaves into their burrows by their bases, where the two needles are conjoined. But how they are guided in this work is a perplexing question.

This difficulty led my son Francis and myself to observe worms in confinement during several nights by the aid of a dim light, while they dragged the leaves of the above named pines into their burrows. They moved the anterior extremities of their bodies about the leaves, and on several occasions when they touched the sharp end of a needle they withdrew suddenly as if pricked. But I doubt whether they were hurt, for they are indifferent to very sharp objects, and will swallow even rose-thorns and small splinters of glass. It may also be doubted, whether the sharp ends of the needles serve to tell them that this is the wrong end to seize; for the points were cut off many leaves for a length of about one inch, and fifty-seven of them thus treated were drawn into the burrows by their bases, and not one by the cut-off ends. The worms in confinement often seized the needles near the middle and drew them towards the mouths of their burrows; and one worm tried in a senseless manner to drag them into the burrow by bending them. They sometimes collected many more leaves over the mouths of their burrows (as in the case formerly mentioned of lime-leaves) than could enter them. On other occasions, however, they behaved very differently; for as soon as they touched the base of a pine-leaf, this was seized, being sometimes completely engulfed in their mouths, or a point very near the base was seized, and the leaf was then quickly dragged or rather jerked into their burrows. It appeared both to my son and myself as if the worms instantly perceived as soon as they had seized a leaf in the proper manner. Nine such cases were observed, but in one of them the worm failed to drag the leaf into its burrow, as it was entangled by other leaves lying near. In another case a leaf stood nearly upright with the points of the needles partly inserted into a burrow, but how placed there was not seen; and then the worm reared itself up and seized the base, which was dragged into the mouth of the burrow by bowing the whole leaf. On the other hand, after a worm had seized the base of a leaf, this was on two occasions relinquished from some unknown motive.

As already remarked, the habit of plugging up the mouths of the burrows with various objects, is no doubt instinctive in worms; and a very young one, born in one of my pots, dragged for some little distance a Scotch-fir leaf, one needle of which was as long and almost as thick as its own body. No species of pine is endemic in this part of England, it is therefore incredible that the proper manner of dragging pine-leaves into the burrows can be instinctive with our worms. But as the worms on which the above observations were made, were dug up beneath or near some pines, which had been planted there about forty years, it was desirable to prove that their actions were not instinctive. Accordingly, pine-leaves were scattered on the ground in places far removed from any pine-tree, and 90 of them were drawn into the burrows by their bases. Only two were drawn in by the tips of the needles, and these were not real exceptions, as one was drawn in for a very short distance, and the two needles of the other cohered. Other pine-leaves were given to worms kept in pots in a warm room, and here the result was different; for out of 42 leaves drawn into the burrows, no less than i6 were drawn in by the tips of the needles. These worms, however, worked in a careless or slovenly manner; for the leaves were often drawn in to only a small depth; sometimes they were merely heaped over the mouths of the burrows, and sometimes none were drawn in. I believe that this carelessness may be accounted for either by the warmth of the air, or by its dampness, as the pots were covered by glass plates; the worms consequently did not care about plugging up their holes effectually. Pots tenanted by worms and covered with a net which allowed the free entrance of air, were left out of doors for several nights, and now 72 leaves were all properly drawn in by their bases.

It might perhaps be inferred from the facts as yet given, that worms somehow gain a general notion of the shape or structure of pine-leaves, and perceive that it is necessary for them to seize the base where the two needles are conjoined. But the following cases make this more than doubtful. The tips of a large number of needles of P. austriaca were cemented together with shell-lac dissolved in alcohol, and were kept for some days, until, as I believe, all odour or taste had been lost; and they were then scattered on the ground where no pine-trees grew, near burrows from which the plugging had been removed. Such leaves could have been drawn into the burrows with equal ease by either end; and judging from analogy and more especially from the case presently to be given of the petioles of Clematis montana, I expected that the apex would have been preferred. But the result was that out of 121 leaves with the tips cemented, which were drawn into burrows, 108 were drawn in by their bases, and only 13 by their tips. Thinking that the worms might possibly perceive and dislike the smell or taste of the shell-lac, though this was very improbable, especially after the leaves had been left out during several nights, the tips of the needles of many leaves were tied together with fine thread. Of leaves thus treated 150 were drawn into burrows–123 by the base and 27 by the tied tips; so that between four land five times as many were drawn in by the base as by the tip. It is possible that the short cut-off ends of the thread with which they were tied, may have tempted the worms to drag in a larger proportional number by the tips than when cement was used. Of the leaves with tied and cemented tips taken together (271 in number) 85 per cent. were drawn in by the base and 15 per cent. by the tips. We may therefore infer that it is not the divergence of the two needles which leads worms in a state of nature almost invariably to drag pine-leaves into their burrows by the base. Nor can it be the sharpness of the points of the needles which determines them; for, as we have seen, many leaves with the points cut off were drawn in by their bases. We are thus led to conclude, that with pine-leaves there must be something attractive to worms in the base, notwithstanding that few ordinary leaves are drawn in by the base or foot-stalk.

Petioles.–We will now turn to the petioles or foot-stalks of compound leaves, after the leaflets have fallen off. Those from Clematis montana, which grew over a verandah, were dragged early in January in large numbers into the burrows on an adjoining gravel- walk, lawn, and flower-bed. These petioles vary from 2.5 to 4.5 inches in length, are rigid and of nearly uniform thickness, except close to the base where they thicken rather abruptly, being here about twice as thick as in any other part. The apex is somewhat pointed, but soon withers and is then easily broken off. Of these petioles, 314 were pulled out of burrows in the above specified sites; and it was found that 76 per cent. had been drawn in by their tips, and 24 per cent by their bases; so that those drawn in by the tip were a little more than thrice as many as those drawn in by the base. Some of those extracted from the well-beaten gravel- walk were kept separate from the others; and of these (59 in number) nearly five times as many had been drawn in by the tip as by the base; whereas of those extracted from the lawn and flower- bed, where from the soil yielding more easily, less care would be necessary in plugging up the burrows, the proportion of those drawn in by the tip (130) to those drawn in by the base (48) was rather less than three to one. That these petioles had been dragged into the burrows for plugging them up, and not for food, was manifest, as neither end, as far as I could see, had been gnawed. As several petioles are used to plug up the same burrow, in one case as many as 10, and in another case as many as 15, the worms may perhaps at first draw in a few by the thicker end so as to save labour; but afterwards a large majority are drawn in by the pointed end, in order to plug up the hole securely.

The fallen petioles of our native ash-tree were next observed, and the rule with most objects, viz., that a large majority are dragged into the burrows by the more pointed end, had not here been followed; and this fact much surprised me at first. These petioles vary in length from 5 to 8.5 inches; they are thick and fleshy towards the base, whence they taper gently towards the apex, which is a little enlarged and truncated where the terminal leaflet had been originally attached. Under some ash-trees growing in a grass- field, 229 petioles were pulled out of worm burrows early in January, and of these 51.5 per cent. had been drawn in by the base, and 48.5 per cent. by the apex. This anomaly was however readily explained as soon as the thick basal part was examined; for in 78 out of 103 petioles, this part had been gnawed by worms, just above the horse-shoe shaped articulation. In most cases there could be no mistake about the gnawing; for ungnawed petioles which were examined after being exposed to the weather for eight additional weeks had not become more disintegrated or decayed near the base than elsewhere. It is thus evident that the thick basal end of the petiole is drawn in not solely for the sake of plugging up the mouths of the burrows, but as food. Even the narrow truncated tips of some few petioles had been gnawed; and this was the case in 6 out of 37 which were examined for this purpose. Worms, after having drawn in and gnawed the basal end, often push the petioles out of their burrows; and then drag in fresh ones, either by the base for food, or by the apex for plugging up the mouth more effectually. Thus, out of 37 petioles inserted by their tips, 5 had been previously drawn in by the base, for this part had been gnawed. Again, I collected a handful of petioles lying loose on the ground close to some plugged-up burrows, where the surface was thickly strewed with other petioles which apparently had never been touched by worms; and 14 out of 47 (i.e. nearly one-third), after having had their bases gnawed had been pushed out of the burrows and were now lying on the ground. From these several facts we may conclude that worms draw in some petioles of the ash by the base to serve as food, and others by the tip to plug up the mouths of their burrows in the most efficient manner.

The petioles of Robinia pseudo-acacia vary from 4 or 5 to nearly 12 inches in length; they are thick close to the base before the softer parts have rotted off, and taper much towards the upper end. They are so flexible that I have seen some few doubled up and thus drawn into the burrows of worms. Unfortunately these petioles were not examined until February, by which time the softer parts had completely rotted off, so that it was impossible to ascertain whether worms had gnawed the bases, though this is in itself probable. Out of 121 petioles extracted from burrows early in February, 68 were imbedded by the base, and 53 by the apex. On February 5 all the petioles which had been drawn into the burrows beneath a Robinia, were pulled up; and after an interval of eleven days, 35 petioles had been again dragged in, 19 by the base, and 16 by the apex. Taking these two lots together, 56 per cent. were drawn in by the base, and 44 per cent. by the apex. As all the softer parts had long ago rotted off, we may feel sure, especially in the latter case, that none had been drawn in as food. At this season, therefore, worms drag these petioles into their burrows indifferently by either end, a slight preference being given to the base. This latter fact may be accounted for by the difficulty of plugging up a burrow with objects so extremely thin as are the upper ends. In support of this view, it may be stated that out of the 16 petioles which had been drawn in by their upper ends, the more attenuated terminal portion of 7 had been previously broken off by some accident.

Triangles of paper.–Elongated triangles were cut out of moderately stiff writing-paper, which was rubbed with raw fat on both sides, so as to prevent their becoming excessively limp when exposed at night to rain and dew. The sides of all the triangles were three inches in length, with the bases of 120 one inch, and of the other 183 half an inch in length. These latter triangles were very narrow or much acuminated. {32} As a check on the observations presently to be given, similar triangles in a damp state were seized by a very narrow pair of pincers at different points and at all inclinations with reference to the margins, and were then drawn into a short tube of the diameter of a worm-burrow. If seized by the apex, the triangle was drawn straight into the tube, with its margins infolded; if seized at some little distance from the apex, for instance at half an inch, this much was doubled back within the tube. So it was with the base and basal angles, though in this case the triangles offered, as might have been expected, much more resistance to being drawn in. If seized near the middle the triangle was doubled up, with the apex and base left sticking out of the tube. As the sides of the triangles were three inches in length, the result of their being drawn into a tube or into a burrow in different ways, may be conveniently divided into three groups: those drawn in by the apex or within an inch of it; those drawn in by the base or within an inch of it; and those drawn in by any point in the middle inch.

In order to see how the triangles would be seized by worms, some in a damp state were given to worms kept in confinement. They were seized in three different manners in the case of both the narrow and broad triangles: viz., by the margin; by one of the three angles, which was often completely engulfed in their mouths; and lastly, by suction applied to any part of the flat surface. If lines parallel to the base and an inch apart, are drawn across a triangle with the sides three inches in length, it will be divided into three parts of equal length. Now if worms seized indifferently by chance any part, they would assuredly seize on the basal part or division far oftener than on either of the two other divisions. For the area of the basal to the apical part is as 5 to 1, so that the chance of the former being drawn into a burrow by suction, will be as 5 to 1, compared with the apical part. The base offers two angles and the apex only one, so that the former would have twice as good a chance (independently of the size of the angles) of being engulfed in a worm’s mouth, as would the apex. It should, however, be stated that the apical angle is not often seized by worms; the margin at a little distance on either side being preferred. I judge of this from having found in 40 out of 46 cases in which triangles had been drawn into burrows by their apical ends, that the tip had been doubled back within the burrow for a length of between 1/20 of an inch and 1 inch. Lastly, the proportion between the margins of the basal and apical parts is as 3 to 2 for the broad, and 2.5 to 2 for the narrow triangles. From these several considerations it might certainly have been expected, supposing that worms seized hold of the triangles by chance, that a considerably larger proportion would have been dragged into the burrows by the basal than by the apical part; but we shall immediately see how different was the result.

Triangles of the above specified sizes were scattered on the ground in many places and on many successive nights near worm-burrows, from which the leaves, petioles, twigs, &c., with which they had been plugged, were removed. Altogether 303 triangles were drawn by worms into their burrows: 12 others were drawn in by both ends, but as it was impossible to judge by which end they had been first seized, these are excluded. Of the 303, 62 per cent. had been drawn in by the apex (using this term for all drawn in by the apical part, one inch in length); 15 per cent. by the middle; and 23 per cent. by the basal part. If they had been drawn indifferently by any point, the proportion for the apical, middle and basal parts would have been 33.3 per cent. for each; but, as we have just seen, it might have been expected that a much larger proportion would have been drawn in by the basal than by any other part. As the case stands, nearly three times as many were drawn in by the apex as by the base. If we consider the broad triangles by themselves, 59 per cent. were drawn in by the apex, 25 per cent. by the middle, and 16 per cent. by the base. Of the narrow triangles, 65 per cent. were drawn in by the apex, 14 per cent, by the middle, and 21 per cent. by the base; so that here those drawn in by the apex were more than 3 times as many as those drawn in by the base. We may therefore conclude that the manner in which the triangles are drawn into the burrows is not a matter of chance.

In eight cases, two triangles had been drawn into the same burrow, and in seven of these cases, one had been drawn in by the apex and the other by the base. This again indicates that the result is not determined by chance. Worms appear sometimes to revolve in the act of drawing in the triangles, for five out of the whole lot had been wound into an irregular spire round the inside of the burrow. Worms kept in a warm room drew 63 triangles into their burrows; but, as in the case of the pine-leaves, they worked in a rather careless manner, for only 44 per cent. were drawn in by the apex, 22 per cent. by the middle, and 33 per cent. by the base. In five cases, two triangles were drawn into the same burrow.

It may be suggested with much apparent probability that so large a proportion of the triangles were drawn in by the apex, not from the worms having selected this end as the most convenient for the purpose, but from having first tried in other ways and failed. This notion was countenanced by the manner in which worms in confinement were seen to drag about and drop the triangles; but then they were working carelessly. I did not at first perceive the importance of this subject, but merely noticed that the bases of those triangles which had been drawn in by the apex, were generally clean and not crumpled. The subject was afterwards attended to carefully. In the first place several triangles which had been drawn in by the basal angles, or by the base, or a little above the base, and which were thus much crumpled and dirtied, were left for some hours in water and were then well shaken while immersed; but neither the dirt nor the creases were thus removed. Only slight creases could be obliterated, even by pulling the wet triangles several times through my fingers. Owing to the slime from the worms’ bodies, the dirt was not easily washed off. We may therefore conclude that if a triangle, before being dragged in by the apex, had been dragged into a burrow by its base with even a slight degree of force, the basal part would long retain its creases and remain dirty. The condition of 89 triangles (65 narrow and 24 broad ones), which had been drawn in by the apex, was observed; and the bases of only 7 of them were at all creased, being at the same time generally dirty. Of the 82 uncreased triangles, 14 were dirty at the base; but it does not follow from this fact that these had first been dragged towards the burrows by their bases; for the worms sometimes covered large portions of the triangles with slime, and these when dragged by the apex over the ground would be dirtied; and during rainy weather, the triangles were often dirtied over one whole side or over both sides. If the worms had dragged the triangles to the mouths of their burrows by their bases, as often as by their apices, and had then perceived, without actually trying to draw them into the burrow, that the broader end was not well adapted for this purpose–even in this case a large proportion would probably have had their basal ends dirtied. We may therefore infer–improbable as is the inference– that worms are able by some means to judge which is the best end by which to draw triangles of paper into their burrows.

The percentage results of the foregoing observations on the manner in which worms draw various kinds of objects into the mouths of their burrows may be abridged as follows:-

into the Drawn in, Drawn in, Nature of Object. burrows, by or by or by or near near
near the the the apex. middle. base.
Leaves of various kinds 80 11 9 – of the Lime, basal margin
of blade broad, apex
acuminated 79 17 4 – of a Laburnum, basal part of
blade as narrow as, or some-
times little narrower than
the apical part 63 10 27 – of the Rhododendron, basal
part of blade often narrower
than the apical part 34 … 66 – of Pine-trees, consisting of
two needles arising from a
common base … … 100 Petioles of a Clematis,
somewhat pointed at the apex,
and blunt at the base 76 … 24 – of the Ash, the thick basal
end often drawn in to serve
as food 48.5 … 51.5 – of Robinia, extremely thin,
especially towards the apex,
so as to be ill-fitted for
plugging up the burrows 44 … 56 Triangles of paper, of the
two sizes 62 15 23 – of the broad ones alone 59 25 16 – of the narrow ones alone 65 14 21

If we consider these several cases, we can hardly escape from the conclusion that worms show some degree of intelligence in their manner of plugging up their burrows. Each particular object is seized in too uniform a manner, and from causes which we can generally understand, for the result to be attributed to mere chance. That every object has not been drawn in by its pointed end, may be accounted for by labour having been saved through some being inserted by their broader or thicker ends. No doubt worms are led by instinct to plug up their burrows; and it might have been expected that they would have been led by instinct how best to act in each particular case, independently of intelligence. We see how difficult it is to judge whether intelligence comes into play, for even plants might sometimes be thought to be thus directed; for instance when displaced leaves re-direct their upper surfaces towards the light by extremely complicated movements and by the shortest course. With animals, actions appearing due to intelligence may be performed through inherited habit without any intelligence, although aboriginally thus acquired. Or the habit may have been acquired through the preservation and inheritance of beneficial variations of some other habit; and in this case the new habit will have been acquired independently of intelligence throughout the whole course of its development. There is no a priori improbability in worms having acquired special instincts through either of these two latter means. Nevertheless it is incredible that instincts should have been developed in reference to objects, such as the leaves of petioles of foreign plants, wholly unknown to the progenitors of the worms which act in the described manner. Nor are their actions so unvarying or inevitable as are most true instincts.

As worms are not guided by special instincts in each particular case, though possessing a general instinct to plug up their burrows, and as chance is excluded, the next most probable conclusion seems to be that they try in many different ways to draw in objects, and at last succeed in some one way. But it is surprising that an animal so low in the scale as a worm should have the capacity for acting in this manner, as many higher animals have no such capacity. For instance, ants may be seen vainly trying to drag an object transversely to their course, which could be easily drawn longitudinally; though after a time they generally act in a wiser manner, M. Fabre states {33} that a Sphex–an insect belonging to the same highly-endowed order with ants–stocks its nest with paralysed grass-hoppers, which are invariably dragged into the burrow by their antennae. When these were cut off close to the head, the Sphex seized the palpi; but when these were likewise cut off, the attempt to drag its prey into the burrow was given up in despair. The Sphex had not intelligence enough to seize one of the six legs or the ovipositor of the grasshopper, which, as M. Fabre remarks, would have served equally well. So again, if the paralysed prey with an egg attached to it be taken out of the cell, the Sphex after entering and finding the cell empty, nevertheless closes it up in the usual elaborate manner. Bees will try to escape and go on buzzing for hours on a window, one half of which has been left open. Even a pike continued during three months to dash and bruise itself against the glass sides of an aquarium, in the vain attempt to seize minnows on the opposite side. {34} A cobra-snake was seen by Mr. Layard {35} to act much more wisely than either the pike or the Sphex; it had swallowed a toad lying within a hole, and could not withdraw its head; the toad was disgorged, and began to crawl away; it was again swallowed and again disgorged; and now the snake had learnt by experience, for it seized the toad by one of its legs and drew it out of the hole. The instincts of even the higher animals are often followed in a senseless or purposeless manner: the weaver-bird will perseveringly wind threads through the bars of its cage, as if building a nest: a squirrel will pat nuts on a wooden floor, as if he had just buried them in the ground: a beaver will cut up logs of wood and drag them about, though there is no water to dam up; and so in many other cases.

Mr. Romanes, who has specially studied the minds of animals, believes that we can safely infer intelligence, only when we see an individual profiting by its own experience. By this test the cobra showed some intelligence; but this would have been much plainer if on a second occasion he had drawn a toad out of a hole by its leg. The Sphex failed signally in this respect. Now if worms try to drag objects into their burrows first in one way and then in another, until they at last succeed, they profit, at least in each particular instance, by experience.

But evidence has been advanced showing that worms do not habitually try to draw objects into their burrows in many different ways. Thus half-decayed lime-leaves from their flexibility could have been drawn in by their middle or basal parts, and were thus drawn into the burrows in considerable numbers; yet a large majority were drawn in by or near the apex. The petioles of the Clematis could certainly have been drawn in with equal ease by the base and apex; yet three times and in certain cases five times as many were drawn in by the apex as by the base. It might have been thought that the foot-stalks of leaves would have tempted the worms as a convenient handle; yet they are not largely used, except when the base of the blade is narrower than the apex. A large number of the petioles of the ash are drawn in by the base; but this part serves the worms as food. In the case of pine-leaves worms plainly show that they at least do not seize the leaf by chance; but their choice does not appear to be determined by the divergence of the two needles, and the consequent advantage or necessity of drawing them into their burrows by the base. With respect to the triangles of paper, those which had been drawn in by the apex rarely had their bases creased or dirty; and this shows that the worms had not often first tried to drag them in by this end.

If worms are able to judge, either before drawing or after having drawn an object close to the mouths of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape. This they probably acquire by touching it in many places with the anterior extremity of their bodies, which serves as a tactile organ. It may be well to remember how perfect the sense of touch becomes in a man when born blind and deaf, as are worms. If worms have the power of acquiring some notion, however rude, of the shape of an object and of their burrows, as seems to be the case, they deserve to be called intelligent; for they then act in nearly the same manner as would a man under similar circumstances.

To sum up, as chance does not determine the manner in which objects are drawn into the burrows, and as the existence of specialized instincts for each particular case cannot be admitted, the first and most natural supposition is that worms try all methods until they at last succeed; but many appearances are opposed to such a supposition. One alternative alone is left, namely, that worms, although standing low in the scale of organization, possess some degree of intelligence. This will strike every one as very improbable; but it may be doubted whether we know enough about the nervous system of the lower animals to justify our natural distrust of such a conclusion. With respect to the small size of the cerebral ganglia, we should remember what a mass of inherited knowledge, with some power of adapting means to an end, is crowded into the minute brain of a worker-ant.

Means by which worms excavate their burrows.–This is effected in two ways; by pushing away the earth on all sides, and by swallowing it. In the former case, the worm inserts the stretched out and attenuated anterior extremity of its body into any little crevice, or hole; and then, as Perrier remarks, {36} the pharynx is pushed forwards into this part, which consequently swells and pushes away the earth on all sides. The anterior extremity thus serves as a wedge. It also serves, as we have before seen, for prehension and suction, and as a tactile organ. A worm was placed on loose mould, and it buried itself in between two and three minutes. On another occasion four worms disappeared in 15 minutes between the sides of the pot and the earth, which had been moderately pressed down. On a third occasion three large worms and a small one were placed on loose mould well mixed with fine sand and firmly pressed down, and they all disappeared, except the tail of one, in 35 minutes. On a fourth occasion six large worms were placed on argillaceous mud mixed with sand firmly pressed down, and they disappeared, except the extreme tips of the tails of two of them, in 40 minutes. In none of these cases, did the worms swallow, as far as could be seen, any earth. They generally entered the ground close to the sides of the pot.

A pot was next filled with very fine ferruginous sand, which was pressed down, well watered, and thus rendered extremely compact. A large worm left on the surface did not succeed in penetrating it for some hours, and did not bury itself completely until 25 hrs. 40 min. had elapsed. This was effected by the sand being swallowed, as was evident by the large quantity ejected from the vent, long before the whole body had disappeared. Castings of a similar nature continued to be ejected from the burrow during the whole of the following day.

As doubts have been expressed by some writers whether worms ever swallow earth solely for the sake of making their burrows, some additional cases may be given. A mass of fine reddish sand, 23 inches in thickness, left on the ground for nearly two years, had been penetrated in many places by worms; and their castings consisted partly of the reddish sand and partly of black earth brought up from beneath the mass. This sand had been dug up from a considerable depth, and was of so poor a nature that weeds could not grow on it. It is therefore highly improbable that it should have been swallowed by the worms as food. Again in a field near my house the castings frequently consist of almost pure chalk, which lies at only a little depth beneath the surface; and here again it is very improbable that the chalk should have been swallowed for the sake of the very little organic matter which could have percolated into it from the poor overlying pasture. Lastly, a casting thrown up through the concrete and decayed mortar between the tiles, with which the now ruined aisle of Beaulieu Abbey had formerly been paved, was washed, so that the coarser matter alone was left. This consisted of grains of quartz, micaceous slate, other rocks, and bricks or tiles, many of them from 1/20 to 1/10 inch in diameter. No one will suppose that these grains were swallowed as food, yet they formed more than half of the casting, for they weighed 19 grains, the whole casting having weighed 33 grains. Whenever a worm burrows to a depth of some feet in undisturbed compact ground, it must form its passage by swallowing the earth; for it is incredible that the ground could yield on all sides to the pressure of the pharynx when pushed forwards within the worm’s body.

That worms swallow a larger quantity of earth for the sake of extracting any nutritious matter which it may contain than for making their burrows, appears to me certain. But as this old belief has been doubted by so high an authority as Claparede, evidence in its favour must be given in some detail. There is no a priori improbability in such a belief, for besides other annelids, especially the Arenicola marina, which throws up such a profusion of castings on our tidal sands, and which it is believed thus subsists, there are animals belonging to the most distinct classes, which do not burrow, but habitually swallow large quantities of sand; namely, the molluscan Onchidium and many Echinoderms. {37}

If earth were swallowed only when worms deepened their burrows or made new ones, castings would be thrown up only occasionally; but in many places fresh castings may be seen every morning, and the amount of earth ejected from the same burrow on successive days is large. Yet worms do not burrow to a great depth, except when the weather is very dry or intensely cold. On my lawn the black vegetable mould or humus is only about 5 inches in thickness, and overlies light-coloured or reddish clayey soil: now when castings are thrown up in the greatest profusion, only a small proportion are light coloured, and it is incredible that the worms should daily make fresh burrows in every direction in the thin superficial layer of dark-coloured mould, unless they obtained nutriment of some kind from it. I have observed a strictly analogous case in a field near my house where bright red clay lay close beneath the surface. Again on one part of the Downs near Winchester the vegetable mould overlying the chalk was found to be only from 3 to 4 inches in thickness; and the many castings here ejected were as black as ink and did not effervesce with acids; so that the worms must have confined themselves to this thin superficial layer of mould, of which large quantities were daily swallowed. In another place at no great distance the castings were white; and why the worms should have burrowed into the chalk in some places and not in others, I am unable to conjecture.

Two great piles of leaves had been left to decay in my grounds, and months after their removal, the bare surface, several yards in diameter, was so thickly covered during several months with castings that they formed an almost continuous layer; and the large number of worms which lived here must have subsisted during these months on nutritious matter contained in the black earth.

The lowest layer from another pile of decayed leaves mixed with some earth was examined under a high power, and the number of spores of various shapes and sizes which it contained was astonishingly great; and these crushed in the gizzards of worms may largely aid in supporting them. Whenever castings are thrown up in the greatest number, few or no leaves are drawn into the burrows; for instance the turf along a hedgerow, about 200 yards in length, was daily observed in the autumn during several weeks, and every morning many fresh castings were seen; but not a single leaf was drawn into these burrows. These castings from their blackness and from the nature of the subsoil could not have been brought up from a greater depth than 6 or 8 inches. On what could these worms have subsisted during this whole time, if not on matter contained in the black earth? On the other hand, whenever a large number of leaves are drawn into the burrows, the worms seem to subsist chiefly on them, for few earth-castings are then ejected on the surface. This difference in the behaviour of worms at different times, perhaps explains a statement by Claparede, namely, that triturated leaves and earth are always found in distinct parts of their intestines.

Worms sometimes abound in places where they can rarely or never obtain dead or living leaves; for instance, beneath the pavement in well-swept courtyards, into which leaves are only occasionally blown. My son Horace examined a house, one corner of which had subsided; and he found here in the cellar, which was extremely damp, many small worm-castings thrown up between the stones with which the cellar was paved; and in this case it is improbable that the worms could ever have obtained leaves. Mr. A. C. Horner confirms this account, as he has seen castings in the cellars of his house, which is an old one at Tonbridge.

But the best evidence, known to me, of worms subsisting for at least considerable periods of time solely on the organic matter contained in earth, is afforded by some facts communicated to me by Dr. King. Near Nice large castings abound in extraordinary numbers, so that 5 or 6 were often found within the space of a square foot. They consist of fine, pale-coloured earth, containing calcareous matter, which after having passed through the bodies of worms and being dried, coheres with considerable force. I have reason to believe that these castings had been formed by species of Perichaeta, which have been naturalized here from the East. {38} They rise like towers, with their summits often a little broader than their bases, sometimes to a height of above 3 and often to a height of 2.5 inches. The tallest of those which were measured was 3.3 inches in height and 1 inch in diameter. A small cylindrical passage runs up the centre of each tower, through which the worm ascends to eject the earth which it has swallowed, and thus to add to its height. A structure of this kind would not allow leaves being easily dragged from the surrounding ground into the burrows; and Dr. King, who looked carefully, never saw even a fragment of a leaf thus drawn in. Nor could any trace be discovered of the worms having crawled down the exterior surfaces of the towers in search of leaves; and had they done so, tracks would almost certainly have been left on the upper part whilst it remained soft. It does not, however, follow that these worms do not draw leaves into their burrows during some other season of the year, at which time they would not build up their towers.

From the several foregoing cases, it can hardly be doubted that worms swallow earth, not only for the sake of making their burrows, but for obtaining food. Hensen, however, concludes from his analyses of mould that worms probably could not live on ordinary vegetable mould, though he admits that they might be nourished to some extent by leaf-mould. {39} But we have seen that worms eagerly devour raw meat, fat, and dead worms; and ordinary mould can hardly fail to contain many ova, larvae, and small living or dead creatures, spores of cryptogamic plants, and micrococci, such as those which give rise to saltpetre. These various organisms, together with some cellulose from any leaves and roots not utterly decayed, might well account for such large quantities of mould being swallowed by worms. It may be worth while here to recall the fact that certain species of Utricularia, which grow in damp places in the tropics, possess bladders beautifully constructed for catching minute subterranean animals; and these traps would not have been developed unless many small animals inhabited such soil.

The depth to which worms penetrate, and the construction of their burrows.–Although worms usually live near the surface, yet they burrow to a considerable depth during long-continued dry weather and severe cold. In Scandinavia, according to Eisen, and in Scotland, according to Mr. Lindsay Carnagie, the burrows run down to a depth of from 7 to 8 feet; in North Germany, according to Hoffmeister, from 6 to 8 feet, but Hensen says, from 3 to 6 feet. This latter observer has seen worms frozen at a depth of 1.5 feet beneath the surface. I have not myself had many opportunities for observation, but I have often met with worms at depths of 3 to 4