Little-Known Facts About Earthworms
With some little-known facts about earthworms, gain a greater understanding of one of the unsung heroes of the vegetable garden.
There isn’t a little boy in the country who hasn’t delighted in finding earthworms for fishing.
Little boys love to dangle them before little girls. Fishermen covet them, and chickens relish them. If you’re a gardener, they can be your best friend, aerating the soil, consuming and digesting vegetation and organic matter, and improving soil fertility with their castings. They’re earthworms, and the more you have, the better off you are. Keep reading for some little-known facts about earthworms, one of the vegetable garden's unsung heroes.
About 180 types of earthworms are found in the United States and Canada, most of them the descendents of worms that were inadvertently brought to North America from Europe in the rootstocks of plants or in ships’ ballast. Over the last two centuries, they’ve populated nearly every corner of the continent. There’s no way of knowing just how many there are in America, but some scientists estimate that rich, fertile farmland may contain as many as a million or more earthworms per acre, and that even an acre of poor soil can support as many as 250,000 of the wrigglers.
The fat worms you find in your garden are likely night crawlers that burrow into the soil and spend most of their lives underground. The tunnels they create allow air and moisture to pass readily through the soil, and the tunnels can retain water that garden plants can take up as needed. Worms eat organic matter, including decaying leaves, bacteria, and decomposed animal and insect remains. In return, they enrich the soil with their excrement, or castings, which are rich in concentrated nitrate, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium. They also produce 60 percent of their body weight daily in urine, which contains high levels of beneficial nitrogen.
Why do earthworms come to the surface after a rainstorm? Not to avoid drowning, as myth suggests, but because the temporarily wet conditions make it easier for them to relocate from point A to point B without dehydrating or baking in the sun. They also crawl to the surface to retrieve bits of leaves and organic matter that they pull into their burrows. Earthworms also frequently crawl to the surface in wet weather to mate.
A worm’s body is essentially a tube containing a mouth, reproductive organs, and a digestive system. Worms don’t have eyes or ears or lungs, but breathe through their skin. Lacking bones, worms rely on a complex system of muscles and tiny, nearly invisible bristles to pull and push themselves forward. While worms are hermaphrodites, and have both male and female reproductive organs, researchers say it still takes two to tango. Most garden variety earthworms live one to two years, although their lifespan can reach four to eight years under field conditions.