all about earthworms


Q. Where did our earthworms come
from?
A. Experts believe most native
species were wiped out wherever
glaciers covered the land. Most
earthworms we see today were
imported mainly from Europe by early
settlers. The worms or worm cocoons
traveled in the rootstocks of plants
brought by the settlers from their
homelands. Europeans added soil,
with its earthworms or worm
cocoons, to ships for ballast. Once
anchored in North American harbors,
ships released their ballast -and
living worms, who found new homes.
Q. What do earthworms eat?
A. Earthworms eat dirt! Their
nutrition comes from things in soil,
such as decaying roots and leaves.
Animal manures are an important
food source for earthworms. They eat
living organisms such as nematodes,
protozoans, rotifers, bacteria, fungi in
soil. Worms will also feed on the
decomposing remains of other
animals.
Q. How do worms eat?
A. They don’t have teeth but they
have strong mouth muscles. Dew
worms or nightcrawlers often surface
at night to pull fallen leaves down
into their burrow. When the leaf
softens a little they pull off small bits
to munch on. Worms also “swallow”
soil as they burrow.
Q. How much do earthworms eat in
one day?
A. They can consume up to one third
of their own body weight in a day.
Q. Why do earthworms stay
underground and seldom come out of
the soil?
A. Darkness lets them avoid being
dried out by the sun. If their skin dries
out, they can no longer breathe. Light
paralyzes them if they’re in it more
than an hour. Then they can’t move
back to the safety of the soil.
Q. Why do worms come onto
driveways and sidewalks when it
rains?
A. Dr. Dennis Linden, Cindy Hale, and
other worm experts say that worms
do NOT surface to avoid drowning. In
fact, they come to the surface during
rains (especially in the spring) so
they can move overland. The
temporarily wet conditions give
worms a chance to move safely to
new places. Since worms breathe
through their skin, the skin must stay
wet in order for the oxygen to pass
through it. After rain or during high
humidity are safe times for worms to
move around without dehydrating. It
is true that, without oxygen, worms
will suffocate. But earthworms can
survive for several weeks under water,
providing there is sufficient oxygen in
the water to support them.
Q. Do earthworms come to the
surface after heavy rains to avoid
drowning?
A. Not exactly. Earthworms can
survive for several weeks under water
providing there is sufficient oxygen in
the water to support them. They
surface as a response to high relative
humidity after rain because they can
move around safely without drying
out.
Q. How can I tell if there are
earthworms in the soil?
A. When trying to find evidence of
earthworms, look at the soil surface
first. Earthworms often leave small
piles or pellets of soil on the surface.
Dig a spadeful of soil and sort
through it for earthworms. Experience
will also allow you to find cocoons.
While you are digging, always watch
for evidence of large burrows with
“slickened” sidewalls. These may
indicate the presence of
nightcrawlers.
Q. Why do robins tug at earthworms
in the soil?
A. Worms use the many tiny bristles
or setae on each of their body rings to
help them crawl as well as to anchor
themselves firmly in their burrows.
The robin has to tug because the
worm is gripping the soil!
Q. Can earthworms survive freezing?
A. If frozen, they will die. Earthworms
fall into the category of freeze-
avoiding invertebrates. Some adults
survive freezing temperatures by
going below the frost line in winter to
“sleep.” Earthworm cocoons,
however, are much more tolerant to
freezing and worm eggs within a
cocoon survive deep in the soil over
winter to hatch in the spring when
conditions are right.
Q. When are worms most active?
A. In the fall and spring. Cool
temperatures of 50, 60, 70 degrees F
and moist conditions are best for
earthworms. Earthworms aren’t
active when it’s cold or dry.
Q. What do earthworms do when it
gets too cold, too hot, or too dry?
A. Earthworms escape by either
burrowing deeply into the soil (up to
about 6 feet or 2 meters), or entering
a reduced metabolic state known as
estivation. Estivation is a form of
hibernation that takes place when
temperatures get too hot or too dry for
earthworms. When conditions are
favorable, the worms will emerge and
resume normal activities.
Q. What happens during estivation?
A. Each worm curls up into a tight
ball deep in the soil and slows down
its metabolism and bodily functions
to survive high heat and drought.
Q. What are some earthworm
enemies?
A. Snakes, birds, moles, toads and
even foxes are known to eat
earthworms. Beetles, centipedes,
leeches, slugs and flatworms also
feed on earthworms. Some types of
mites parasitize earthworm cocoons
or the worms themselves.
http://www.learner.org/jnorth/search/WormNotes3.html

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