The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the action of worms with
by Charles Darwin
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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:-

Drawn 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 feet. In a bed of fine sand overlying the chalk, which had never been disturbed, a worm was cut into two at 55 inches, and another was found here at Down in December at the bottom of its burrow, at 61 inches beneath the surface. Lastly, in earth near an old Roman Villa, which had not been disturbed for many centuries, a worm was met with at a depth of 66 inches; and this was in the middle of August.

The burrows run down perpendicularly, or more commonly a little obliquely. They are said sometimes to branch, but as far as I have seen this does not occur, except in recently dug ground and near the surface. They are generally, or as I believe invariably, lined with a thin layer of fine, dark-coloured earth voided by the worms; so that they must at first be made a little wider than their ultimate diameter. I have seen several burrows in undisturbed sand thus lined at a depth of 4 ft. 6 in.; and others close to the surface thus lined in recently dug ground. The walls of fresh burrows are often dotted with little globular pellets of voided earth, still soft and viscid; and these, as it appears, are spread out on all sides by the worm as it travels up or down its burrow. The lining thus formed becomes very compact and smooth when nearly dry, and closely fits the worm's body. The minute reflexed bristles which project in rows on all sides from the body, thus have excellent points of support; and the burrow is rendered well adapted for the rapid movement of the animal. The lining appears also to strengthen the walls, and perhaps saves the worm's body from being scratched. I think so because several burrows which passed through a layer of sifted coal-cinders, spread over turf to a thickness of 1.5 inch, had been thus lined to an unusual thickness. In this case the worms, judging from the castings, had pushed the cinders away on all sides and had not swallowed any of them. In another place, burrows similarly lined, passed through a layer of coarse coal-cinders, 3.5 inches in thickness. We thus see that the burrows are not mere excavations, but may rather be compared with tunnels lined with cement.

The mouths of the burrow are in addition often lined with leaves; and this is an instinct distinct from that of plugging them up, and does not appear to have been hitherto noticed. Many leaves of the Scotch-fir or pine (Pinus sylvestris) were given to worms kept in confinement in two pots; and when after several weeks the earth was carefully broken up, the upper parts of three oblique burrows were found surrounded for lengths of 7, 4, and 3.5 inches with pine- leaves, together with fragments of other leaves which had been given the worms as food. Glass beads and bits of tile, which had been strewed on the surface of the soil, were stuck into the interstices between the pine-leaves; and these interstices were likewise plastered with the viscid castings voided by the worms. The structures thus formed cohered so well, that I succeeded in removing one with only a little earth adhering to it. It consisted of a slightly curved cylindrical case, the interior of which could be seen through holes in the sides and at either end. The pine- leaves had all been drawn in by their bases; and the sharp points of the needles had been pressed into the lining of voided earth. Had this not been effectually done, the sharp points would have prevented the retreat of the worms into their burrows; and these structures would have resembled traps armed with converging points of wire, rendering the ingress of an animal easy and its egress difficult or impossible. The skill shown by these worms is noteworthy and is the more remarkable, as the Scotch pine is not a native of this district.

After having examined these burrows made by worms in confinement, I looked at those in a flower-bed near some Scotch pines. These had all been plugged up in the ordinary manner with the leaves of this tree, drawn in for a length of from 1 to 1.5 inch; but the mouths of many of them were likewise lined with them, mingled with fragments of other kinds of leaves, drawn in to a depth of 4 or 5 inches. Worms often remain, as formerly stated, for a long time close to the mouths of their burrows, apparently for warmth; and the basket-like structures formed of leaves would keep their bodies from coming into close contact with the cold damp earth. That they habitually rested on the pine-leaves, was rendered probable by their clean and almost polished surfaces.

The burrows which run far down into the ground, generally, or at least often, terminate in a little enlargement or chamber. Here, according to Hoffmeister, one or several worms pass the winter rolled up into a ball. Mr. Lindsay Carnagie informed me (1838) that he had examined many burrows over a stone-quarry in Scotland, where the overlying boulder-clay and mould had recently been cleared away, and a little vertical cliff thus left. In several cases the same burrow was a little enlarged at two or three points one beneath the other; and all the burrows terminated in a rather large chamber, at a depth of 7 or 8 feet from the surface. These chambers contained many small sharp bits of stone and husks of flax-seeds. They must also have contained living seeds, for on the following spring Mr. Carnagie saw grass-plants sprouting out of some of the intersected chambers. I found at Abinger in Surrey two burrows terminating in similar chambers at a depth of 36 and 41 inches, and these were lined or paved with little pebbles, about as large as mustard seeds; and in one of the chambers there was a decayed oat-grain, with its husk. Hensen likewise states that the bottoms of the burrows are lined with little stones; and where these could not be procured, seeds, apparently of the pear, had been used, as many as fifteen having been carried down into a single burrow, one of which had germinated. {40} We thus see how easily a botanist might be deceived who wished to learn how long deeply buried seeds remained alive, if he were to collect earth from a considerable depth, on the supposition that it could contain only seeds which had long lain buried. It is probable that the little stones, as well as the seeds, are carried down from the surface by being swallowed; for a surprising number of glass beads, bits of tile and of glass were certainly thus carried down by worms kept in pots; but some may have been carried down within their mouths. The sole conjecture which I can form why worms line their winter-quarters with little stones and seeds, is to prevent their closely coiled-up bodies from coming into close contact with the surrounding cold soil; and such contact would perhaps interfere with their respiration which is effected by the skin alone.

A worm after swallowing earth, whether for making its burrow or for food, soon comes to the surface to empty its body. The ejected earth is thoroughly mingled with the intestinal secretions, and is thus rendered viscid. After being dried it sets hard. I have watched worms during the act of ejection, and when the earth was in a very liquid state it was ejected in little spurts, and by a slow peristaltic movement when not so liquid. It is not cast indifferently on any side, but with some care, first on one and then on another side; the tail being used almost like a trowel. When a worm comes to the surface to eject earth, the tail protrudes, but when it collects leaves its head must protrude. Worms therefore must have the power of turning round in their closely-fitting burrows; and this, as it appears to us, would be a difficult feat. As soon as a little heap has been formed, the worm apparently avoids, for the sake of safety, protruding its tail; and the earthy matter is forced up through the previously deposited soft mass. The mouth of the same burrow is used for this purpose for a considerable time. In the case of the tower-like castings (see Fig. 2) near Nice, and of the similar but still taller towers from Bengal (hereafter to be described and figured), a considerable degree of skill is exhibited in their construction. Dr. King also observed that the passage up these towers hardly ever ran in the same exact line with the underlying burrow, so that a thin cylindrical object such as a haulm of grass, could not be passed down the tower into the burrow; and this change of direction probably serves in some manner as a protection.

Worms do not always eject their castings on the surface of the ground. When they can find any cavity, as when burrowing in newly turned-up earth, or between the stems of banked-up plants, they deposit their castings in such places. So again any hollow beneath a large stone lying on the surface of the ground, is soon filled up with their castings. According to Hensen, old burrows are habitually used for this purpose; but as far as my experience serves, this is not the case, excepting with those near the surface in recently dug ground. I think that Hensen may have been deceived by the walls of old burrows, lined with black earth, having sunk in or collapsed; for black streaks are thus left, and these are conspicuous when passing through light-coloured soil, and might be mistaken for completely filled-up burrows.

It is certain that old burrows collapse in the course of time; for as we shall see in the next chapter, the fine earth voided by worms, if spread out uniformly, would form in many places in the course of a year a layer 0.2 of an inch in thickness; so that at any rate this large amount is not deposited within the old unused burrows. If the burrows did not collapse, the whole ground would be first thickly riddled with holes to a depth of about ten inches, and in fifty years a hollow unsupported space, ten inches in depth, would be left. The holes left by the decay of successively formed roots of trees and plants must likewise collapse in the course of time.

The burrows of worms run down perpendicularly or a little obliquely, and where the soil is at all argillaceous, there is no difficulty in believing that the walls would slowly flow or slide inwards during very wet weather. When, however, the soil is sandy or mingled with many small stones, it can hardly be viscous enough to flow inwards during even the wettest weather; but another agency may here come into play. After much rain the ground swells, and as it cannot expand laterally, the surface rises; during dry weather it sinks again. For instance, a large flat stone laid on the surface of a field sank 3.33 mm. whilst the weather was dry between May 9th and June 13th, and rose 1.91 mm, between September 7th and 19th of the same year, much rain having fallen during the latter part of this time. During frosts and thaws the movements were twice as great. These observations were made by my son Horace, who will hereafter publish an account of the movements of this stone during successive wet and dry seasons, and of the effects of its being undermined by worms. Now when the ground swells, if it be penetrated by cylindrical holes, such as worm-burrows, their walls will tend to yield and be pressed inwards; and the yielding will be greater in the deeper parts (supposing the whole to be equally moistened) from the greater weight of the superincumbent soil which has to be raised, than in the parts near the surface. When the ground dries, the walls will shrink a little and the burrows will be a little enlarged. Their enlargement, however, through the lateral contraction of the ground, will not be favoured, but rather opposed, by the weight of the superincumbent soil.

Distribution of Worms.—Earth-worms are found in all parts of the world, and some of the genera have an enormous range. {41} They inhabit the most isolated islands; they abound in Iceland, and are known to exist in the West Indies, St. Helena, Madagascar, New Caledonia and Tahiti. In the Antarctic regions, worms from Kerguelen Land have been described by Ray Lankester; and I found them in the Falkland Islands. How they reach such isolated islands is at present quite unknown. They are easily killed by salt-water, and it does not appear probable that young worms or their egg- capsules could be carried in earth adhering to the feet or beaks of land-birds. Moreover Kerguelen Land is not now inhabited by any land-bird.

In this volume we are chiefly concerned with the earth cast up by worms, and I have gleaned a few facts on this subject with respect to distant lands. Worms throw up plenty of castings in the United States. In Venezuela, castings, probably ejected by species of Urochaeta, are common in the gardens and fields, but not in the forests, as I hear from Dr. Ernst of Caracas. He collected 156 castings from the court-yard of his house, having an area of 200 square yards. They varied in bulk from half a cubic centimeter to five cubic centimeters, and were on an average three cubic centimeters. They were, therefore, of small size in comparison with those often found in England; for six large castings from a field near my house averaged 16 cubic centimeters. Several species of earth-worms are common in St. Catharina in South Brazil, and Fritz Muller informs me "that in most parts of the forests and pasture-lands, the whole soil, to a depth of a quarter of a metre, looks as if it had passed repeatedly through the intestines of earth-worms, even where hardly any castings are to be seen on the surface." A gigantic but very rare species is found there, the burrows of which are sometimes even two centimeters or nearly 0.8 of an inch in diameter, and which apparently penetrate the ground to a great depth.

In the dry climate of New South Wales, I hardly expected that worms would be common; but Dr. G. Krefft of Sydney, to whom I applied, after making inquiries from gardeners and others, and from his own observations, informs me that their castings abound. He sent me some collected after heavy rain, and they consisted of little pellets, about 0.15 inch in diameter; and the blackened sandy earth of which they were formed still cohered with considerable tenacity.

The late Mr. John Scott of the Botanic Gardens near Calcutta made many observations for me on worms living under the hot and humid climate of Bengal. The castings abound almost everywhere, in jungles and in the open ground, to a greater degree, as he thinks, than in England. After the water has subsided from the flooded rice-fields, the whole surface very soon becomes studded with castings—a fact which much surprised Mr. Scott, as he did not know how long worms could survive beneath water. They cause much trouble in the Botanic garden, "for some of the finest of our lawns can be kept in anything like order only by being almost daily rolled; if left undisturbed for a few days they become studded with large castings." These closely resemble those described as abounding near Nice; and they are probably the work of a species of Perichaeta. They stand up like towers, with an open passage in the centre.

A figure of one of these castings from a photograph is here given (Fig. 3). The largest received by me was 3.5 inches in height and 1.35 inch in diameter; another was only 0.75 inch in diameter and 2.75 in height. In the following year, Mr. Scott measured several of the largest; one was 6 inches in height and nearly 1.5 in diameter: two others were 5 inches in height and respectively 2 and rather more than 2.5 inches in diameter. The average weight of the 22 castings sent to me was 35 grammes (1.25 oz.); and one of them weighed 44.8 grammes (or 2 oz.). All these castings were thrown up either in one night or in two. Where the ground in Bengal is dry, as under large trees, castings of a different kind are found in vast numbers: these consist of little oval or conical bodies, from about the 1/20 to rather above 1/10 of an inch in length. They are obviously voided by a distinct species of worms.

The period during which worms near Calcutta display such extraordinary activity lasts for only a little over two months, namely, during the cool season after the rains. At this time they are generally found within about 10 inches beneath the surface. During the hot season they burrow to a greater depth, and are then found coiled up and apparently hybernating. Mr. Scott has never seen them at a greater depth than 2.5 feet, but has heard of their having been found at 4 feet. Within the forests, fresh castings may be found even during the hot season. The worms in the Botanic garden, during the cool and dry season, draw many leaves and little sticks into the mouths of their burrows, like our English worms; but they rarely act in this manner during the rainy season.

Mr. Scott saw worm-castings on the lofty mountains of Sikkim in North India. In South India Dr. King found in one place, on the plateau of the Nilgiris, at an elevation of 7000 feet, "a good many castings," which are interesting for their great size. The worms which eject them are seen only during the wet season, and are reported to be from 12 to 15 inches in length, and as thick as a man's little finger. These castings were collected by Dr. King after a period of 110 days without any rain; and they must have been ejected either during the north-east or more probably during the previous south-west monsoon; for their surfaces had suffered some disintegration and they were penetrated by many fine roots. A drawing is here given (Fig. 4) of one which seems to have best retained its original size and appearance. Notwithstanding some loss from disintegration, five of the largest of these castings (after having been well sun-dried) weighed each on an average 89.5 grammes, or above 3 oz.; and the largest weighed 123.14 grammes, or 4.33 oz.,—that is, above a quarter of a pound! The largest convolutions were rather more than one inch in diameter; but it is probable that they had subsided a little whilst soft, and that their diameters had thus been increased. Some had flowed so much that they now consisted of a pile of almost flat confluent cakes. All were formed of fine, rather light-coloured earth, and were surprisingly hard and compact, owing no doubt to the animal matter by which the particles of earth had been cemented together. They did not disintegrate, even when left for some hours in water. Although they had been cast up on the surface of gravelly soil, they contained extremely few bits of rock, the largest of which was only 0.15 inch in diameter.

Dr. King saw in Ceylon a worm about 2 feet in length and 0.5 inch in diameter; and he was told that it was a very common species during the wet season. These worms must throw up castings at least as large as those on the Nilgiri Mountains; but Dr. King saw none during his short visit to Ceylon.

Sufficient facts have now been given, showing that worms do much work in bringing up fine earth to the surface in most or all parts of the world, and under the most different climates.


Rate at which various objects strewed on the surface of grass- fields are covered up by the castings of worms—The burial of a paved path—The slow subsidence of great stones left on the surface—The number of worms which live within a given space—The weight of earth ejected from a burrow, and from all the burrows within a given space—The thickness of the layer of mould which the castings on a given space would form within a given time if uniformly spread out—The slow rate at which mould can increase to a great thickness—Conclusion.

We now come to the more immediate subject of this volume, namely, the amount of earth which is brought up by worms from beneath the surface, and is afterwards spread out more or less completely by the rain and wind. The amount can be judged of by two methods,—by the rate at which objects left on the surface are buried, and more accurately by weighing the quantity brought up within a given time. We will begin with the first method, as it was first followed.

Near Mael Hall in Staffordshire, quick-lime had been spread about the year 1827 thickly over a field of good pasture-land, which had not since been ploughed. Some square holes were dug in this field in the beginning of October 1837; and the sections showed a layer of turf, formed by the matted roots of the grasses, 0.5 inch in thickness, beneath which, at a depth of 2.5 inches (or 3 inches from the surface), a layer of the lime in powder or in small lumps could be distinctly seen running all round the vertical sides of the holes. The soil beneath the layer of lime was either gravelly or of a coarse sandy nature, and differed considerably in appearance from the overlying dark-coloured fine mould. Coal- cinders had been spread over a part of this same field either in the year 1833 or 1834; and when the above holes were dug, that is after an interval of 3 or 4 years, the cinders formed a line of black spots round the holes, at a depth of 1 inch beneath the surface, parallel to and above the white layer of lime. Over another part of this field cinders had been strewed, only about half-a-year before, and these either still lay on the surface or were entangled among the roots of the grasses; and I here saw the commencement of the burying process, for worm-castings had been heaped on several of the smaller fragments. After an interval of 4.75 years this field was re-examined, and now the two layers of lime and cinders were found almost everywhere at a greater depth than before by nearly 1 inch, we will say by 0.75 of an inch. Therefore mould to an average thickness of 0.22 of an inch had been annually brought up by the worms, and had been spread over the surface of this field.

Coal-cinders had been strewed over another field, at a date which could not be positively ascertained, so thickly that they formed (October, 1837) a layer, 1 inch in thickness at a depth of about 3 inches from the surface. The layer was so continuous that the over-lying dark vegetable mould was connected with the sub-soil of red clay only by the roots of the grasses; and when these were broken, the mould and the red clay fell apart. In a third field, on which coal-cinders and burnt marl had been strewed several times at unknown dates, holes were dug in 1842; and a layer of cinders could be traced at a depth of 3.5 inches, beneath which at a depth of 9.5 inches from the surface there was a line of cinders together with burnt marl. On the sides of one hole there were two layers of cinders, at 2 and 3.5 inches beneath the surface; and below them at a depth in parts of 9.5, and in other parts of 10.5 inches there were fragments of burnt marl. In a fourth field two layers of lime, one above the other, could be distinctly traced, and beneath them a layer of cinders and burnt marl at a depth of from 10 to 12 inches below the surface.

A piece of waste, swampy land was enclosed, drained, ploughed, harrowed and thickly covered in the year 1822 with burnt marl and cinders. It was sowed with grass seeds, and now supports a tolerably good but coarse pasture. Holes were dug in this field in 1837, or 15 years after its reclamation, and we see in the accompanying diagram (Fig. 5), reduced to half of the natural scale, that the turf was 1 inch thick, beneath which there was a layer of vegetable mould 2.5 inches thick. This layer did not contain fragments of any kind; but beneath it there was a layer of mould, 1.5 inch in thickness, full of fragments of burnt marl, conspicuous from their red colour, one of which near the bottom was an inch in length; and other fragments of coal-cinders together with a few white quartz pebbles. Beneath this layer and at a depth of 4.5 inches from the surface, the original black, peaty, sandy soil with a few quartz pebbles was encountered. Here therefore the fragments of burnt marl and cinders had been covered in the course of 15 years by a layer of fine vegetable mould, only 2.5 inches in thickness, excluding the turf. Six and a half years subsequently this field was re-examined, and the fragments were now found at from 4 to 5 inches beneath the surface. So that in this interval of 6.5 years, about 1.5 inch of mould had been added to the superficial layer. I am surprised that a greater quantity had not been brought up during the whole 21.5 years, for in the closely underlying black, peaty soil there were many worms. It is, however, probable that formerly, whilst the land remained poor, worms were scanty; and the mould would then have accumulated slowly. The average annual increase of thickness for the whole period is 0.19 of an inch.

Two other cases are worth recording. In the spring of 1835, a field, which had long existed as poor pasture and was so swampy that it trembled slightly when stamped on, was thickly covered with red sand so that the whole surface appeared at first bright red. When holes were dug in this field after an interval of about 2.5 years, the sand formed a layer at a depth of 0.75 in. beneath the surface. In 1842 (i.e., 7 years after the sand had been laid on) fresh holes were dug, and now the red sand formed a distinct layer, 2 inches beneath the surface, or 1.5 inch beneath the turf; so that on an average, 0.21 inch of mould had been annually brought to the surface. Immediately beneath the layer of red sand, the original substratum of black sandy peat extended.

A grass field, likewise not far from Maer Hall, had formerly been thickly covered with marl, and was then left for several years as pasture; it was afterwards ploughed. A friend had three trenches dug in this field 28 years after the application of the marl, {42} and a layer of the marl fragments could be traced at a depth, carefully measured, of 12 inches in some parts, and of 14 inches in other parts. This difference in depth depended on the layer being horizontal, whilst the surface consisted of ridges and furrows from the field having been ploughed. The tenant assured me that it had never been turned up to a greater depth than from 6 to 8 inches; and as the fragments formed an unbroken horizontal layer from 12 to 14 inches beneath the surface, these must have been buried by the worms whilst the land was in pasture before it was ploughed, for otherwise they would have been indiscriminately scattered by the plough throughout the whole thickness of the soil. Four-and-a-half years afterwards I had three holes dug in this field, in which potatoes had been lately planted, and the layer of marl-fragments was now found 13 inches beneath the bottoms of the furrows, and therefore probably 15 inches beneath the general level of the field. It should, however, be observed that the thickness of the blackish sandy soil, which had been thrown up by the worms above the marl-fragments in the course of 32.5 years, would have measured less than 15 inches, if the field had always remained as pasture, for the soil would in this case have been much more compact. The fragments of marl almost rested on an undisturbed substratum of white sand with quartz pebbles; and as this would be little attractive to worms, the mould would hereafter be very slowly increased by their action.

We will now give some cases of the action of worms, on land differing widely from the dry sandy or the swampy pastures just described. The chalk formation extends all round my house in Kent; and its surface, from having been exposed during an immense period to the dissolving action of rain-water, is extremely irregular, being abruptly festooned and penetrated by many deep well-like cavities. {43} During the dissolution of the chalk, the insoluble matter, including a vast number of unrolled flints of all sizes, has been left on the surface and forms a bed of stiff red clay, full of flints, and generally from 6 to 14 feet in thickness. Over the red clay, wherever the land has long remained as pasture, there is a layer a few inches in thickness, of dark-coloured vegetable mould.

A quantity of broken chalk was spread, on December 20, 1842, over a part of a field near my house, which had existed as pasture certainly for 30, probably for twice or thrice as many years. The chalk was laid on the land for the sake of observing at some future period to what depth it would become buried. At the end of November, 1871, that is after an interval of 29 years, a trench was dug across this part of the field; and a line of white nodules could be traced on both sides of the trench, at a depth of 7 inches from the surface. The mould, therefore, (excluding the turf) had here been thrown up at an average rate of 0.22 inch per year. Beneath the line of chalk nodules there was in parts hardly any fine earth free of flints, while in other parts there was a layer, 2.25 inches in thickness. In this latter case the mould was altogether 9.25 inches thick; and in one such spot a nodule of chalk and a smooth flint pebble, both of which must have been left at some former time on the surface, were found at this depth. At from 11 to 12 inches beneath the surface, the undisturbed reddish clay, full of flints, extended. The appearance of the above nodules of chalk surprised me, much at first, as they closely resembled water-worn pebbles, whereas the freshly-broken fragments had been angular. But on examining the nodules with a lens, they no longer appeared water-worn, for their surfaces were pitted through unequal corrosion, and minute, sharp points, formed of broken fossil shells, projected from them. It was evident that the corners of the original fragments of chalk had been wholly dissolved, from presenting a large surface to the carbonic acid dissolved in the rain-water and to that generated in soil containing vegetable matter, as well as to the humus-acids. {44} The projecting corners would also, relatively to the other parts, have been embraced by a larger number of living rootlets; and these have the power of even attacking marble, as Sachs has shown. Thus, in the course of 29 years, buried angular fragments of chalk had been converted into well-rounded nodules.

Another part of this same field was mossy, and as it was thought that sifted coal-cinders would improve the pasture, a thick layer was spread over this part either in 1842 or 1843, and another layer some years afterwards. In 1871 a trench was here dug, and many cinders lay in a line at a depth of 7 inches beneath the surface, with another line at a depth of 5.5 inches parallel to the one beneath. In another part of this field, which had formerly existed as a separate one, and which it was believed had been pasture-land for more than a century, trenches were dug to see how thick the vegetable mould was. By chance the first trench was made at a spot where at some former period, certainly more than forty years before, a large hole had been filled up with coarse red clay, flints, fragments of chalk, and gravel; and here the fine vegetable mould was only from 4.125 to 4.375 inches in thickness. In another and undisturbed place, the mould varied much in thickness, namely, from 6.5 to 8.5 inches; beneath which a few small fragments of brick were found in one place. From these several cases, it would appear that during the last 29 years mould has been heaped on the surface at an average annual rate of from 0.2 to 0.22 of an inch. But in this district when a ploughed field is first laid down in grass, the mould accumulates at a much slower rate. The rate, also, must become very much slower after a bed of mould, several inches in thickness, has been formed; for the worms then live chiefly near the surface, and burrow down to a greater depth so as to bring up fresh earth from below, only during the winter when the weather is very cold (at which time worms were found in this field at a depth of 26 inches) and during summer, when the weather is very dry.

A field, which adjoins the one just described, slopes in one part rather steeply (viz., at from 10 degrees to 15 degrees); this part was last ploughed in 1841, was then harrowed and left to become pasture-land. For several years it was clothed with an extremely scant vegetation, and was so thickly covered with small and large flints (some of them half as large as a child's head) that the field was always called by my sons "the stony field." When they ran down the slope the stones clattered together, I remember doubting whether I should live to see these larger flints covered with vegetable mould and turf. But the smaller stones disappeared before many years had elapsed, as did every one of the larger ones after a time; so that after thirty years (1871) a horse could gallop over the compact turf from one end of the field to the other, and not strike a single stone with his shoes. To anyone who remembered the appearance of the field in 1842, the transformation was wonderful. This was certainly the work of the worms, for though castings were not frequent for several years, yet some were thrown up month after month, and these gradually increased in numbers as the pasture improved. In the year 1871 a trench was dug on the above slope, and the blades of grass were cut off close to the roots, so that the thickness of the turf and of the vegetable mould could be measured accurately. The turf was rather less than half an inch, and the mould, which did not contain any stones, 2.5 inches in thickness. Beneath this lay coarse clayey earth full of flints, like that in any of the neighbouring ploughed fields. This coarse earth easily fell apart from the overlying mould when a spit was lifted up. The average rate of accumulation of the mould during the whole thirty years was only .083 inch per year (i.e., nearly one inch in twelve years); but the rate must have been much slower at first, and afterwards considerably quicker.

The transformation in the appearance of this field, which had been effected beneath my eyes, was afterwards rendered the more striking, when I examined in Knole Park a dense forest of lofty beech-trees, beneath which nothing grew. Here the ground was thickly strewed with large naked stones, and worm-castings were almost wholly absent. Obscure lines and irregularities on the surface indicated that the land had been cultivated some centuries ago. It is probable that a thick wood of young beech-trees sprung up so quickly, that time enough was not allowed for worms to cover up the stones with their castings, before the site became unfitted for their existence. Anyhow the contrast between the state of the now miscalled "stony field," well stocked with worms, and the present state of the ground beneath the old beech-trees in Knole Park, where worms appeared to be absent, was striking.

A narrow path running across part of my lawn was paved in 1843 with small flagstones, set edgeways; but worms threw up many castings and weeds grew thickly between them. During several years the path was weeded and swept; but ultimately the weeds and worms prevailed, and the gardener ceased to sweep, merely mowing off the weeds, as often as the lawn was mowed. The path soon became almost covered up, and after several years no trace of it was left. On removing, in 1877, the thin overlying layer of turf, the small flag-stones, all in their proper places, were found covered by an inch of fine mould.

Two recently published accounts of substances strewed on the surface of pasture-land, having become buried through the action of worms, may be here noticed. The Rev. H. C. Key had a ditch cut in a field, over which coal-ashes had been spread, as it was believed, eighteen years before; and on the clean-cut perpendicular sides of the ditch, at a depth of at least seven inches, there could be seen, for a length of 60 yards, "a distinct, very even, narrow line of coal-ashes, mixed with small coal, perfectly parallel with the top-sward." {45} This parallelism and the length of the section give interest to the case. Secondly, Mr. Dancer states {46} that crushed bones had been thickly strewed over a field; and "some years afterwards" these were found "several inches below the surface, at a uniform depth."

The Rev. Mr. Zincke informs me that he has lately had an orchard dug to the unusual depth of 4 feet. The upper 18 inches consisted of dark-coloured vegetable mould, and the next 18 inches of sandy loam, containing in the lower part many rolled pieces of sandstone, with some bits of brick and tile, probably of Roman origin, as remains of this period have been found close by. The sandy loam rested on an indurated ferruginous pan of yellow clay, on the surface of which two perfect celts were found. If, as seems probable, the celts were originally left on the surface of the land, they have since been covered up with earth 3 feet in thickness, all of which has probably passed through the bodies of worms, excepting the stones which may have been scattered on the surface at different times, together with manure or by other means. It is difficult otherwise to understand the source of the 18 inches of sandy loam, which differed from the overlying dark vegetable mould, after both had been burnt, only in being of a brighter red colour, and in not being quite so fine-grained. But on this view we must suppose that the carbon in vegetable mould, when it lies at some little depth beneath the surface and does not continually receive decaying vegetable matter from above, loses its dark colour in the course of centuries; but whether this is probable I do not know.

Worms appear to act in the same manner in New Zealand as in Europe; for Professor J. von Haast has described {47} a section near the coast, consisting of mica-schist, "covered by 5 or 6 feet of loess, above which about 12 inches of vegetable soil had accumulated." Between the loess and the mould there was a layer from 3 to 6 inches in thickness, consisting of "cores, implements, flakes, and chips, all manufactured from hard basaltic rock." It is therefore probable that the aborigines, at some former period, had left these objects on the surface, and that they had afterwards been slowly covered up by the castings of worms.

Farmers in England are well aware that objects of all kinds, left on the surface of pasture-land, after a time disappear, or, as they say, work themselves downwards. How powdered lime, cinders, and heavy stones, can work down, and at the same rate, through the matted roots of a grass-covered surface, is a question which has probably never occurred to them. {48}

The Sinking of great Stones through the Action of Worms.—When a stone of large size and of irregular shape is left on the surface of the ground, it rests, of course, on the more protuberant parts; but worms soon fill up with their castings all the hollow spaces on the lower side; for, as Hensen remarks, they like the shelter of stones. As soon as the hollows are filled up, the worms eject the earth which they have swallowed beyond the circumference of the stones; and thus the surface of the ground is raised all round the stone. As the burrows excavated directly beneath the stone after a time collapse, the stone sinks a little. {49} Hence it is, that boulders which at some ancient period have rolled down from a rocky mountain or cliff on to a meadow at its base, are always somewhat imbedded in the soil; and, when removed, leave an exact impression of their lower surfaces in the underlying fine mould. If, however, a boulder is of such huge dimensions, that the earth beneath is kept dry, such earth will not be inhabited by worms, and the boulder will not sink into the ground.

A lime-kiln formerly stood in a grass-field near Leith Hill Place in Surrey, and was pulled down 35 years before my visit; all the loose rubbish had been carted away, excepting three large stones of quartzose sandstone, which it was thought might hereafter be of some use. An old workman remembered that they had been left on a bare surface of broken bricks and mortar, close to the foundations of the kiln; but the whole surrounding surface is now covered with turf and mould. The two largest of these stones had never since been moved; nor could this easily have been done, as, when I had them removed, it was the work of two men with levers. One of these stones, and not the largest, was 64 inches long, 17 inches broad, and from 9 to 10 inches in thickness. Its lower surface was somewhat protuberant in the middle; and this part still rested on broken bricks and mortar, showing the truth of the old workman's account. Beneath the brick rubbish the natural sandy soil, full of fragments of sandstone was found; and this could have yielded very little, if at all, to the weight of the stone, as might have been expected if the sub-soil had been clay. The surface of the field, for a distance of about 9 inches round the stone, gradually sloped up to it, and close to the stone stood in most places about 4 inches above the surrounding ground. The base of the stone was buried from 1 to 2 inches beneath the general level, and the upper surface projected about 8 inches above this level, or about 4 inches above the sloping border of turf. After the removal of the stone it became evident that one of its pointed ends must at first have stood clear above the ground by some inches, but its upper surface was now on a level with the surrounding turf. When the stone was removed, an exact cast of its lower side, forming a shallow crateriform hollow, was left, the inner surface of which consisted of fine black mould, excepting where the more protuberant parts rested on the brick-rubbish. A transverse section of this stone, together with its bed, drawn from measurements made after it had been displaced, is here given on a scale of 0.5 inch to a foot (Fig. 6). The turf-covered border which sloped up to the stone, consisted of fine vegetable mould, in one part 7 inches in thickness. This evidently consisted of worm-castings, several of which had been recently ejected. The whole stone had sunk in the thirty-five years, as far as I could judge, about 1.5 inch; and this must have been due to the brick-rubbish beneath the more protuberant parts having been undermined by worms. At this rate the upper surface of the stone, if it had been left undisturbed, would have sunk to the general level of the field in 247 years; but before this could have occurred, some earth would have been washed down by heavy rain from the castings on the raised border of turf over the upper surface of the stone.

The second stone was larger that the one just described, viz., 67 inches in length, 39 in breadth, and 15 in thickness. The lower surface was nearly flat, so that the worms must soon have been compelled to eject their castings beyond its circumference. The stone as a whole had sunk about 2 inches into the ground. At this rate it would have required 262 years for its upper surface to have sunk to the general level of the field. The upwardly sloping, turf-covered border round the stone was broader than in the last case, viz., from 14 to 16 inches; and why this should be so, I could see no reason. In most parts this border was not so high as in the last case, viz., from 2 to 2.5 inches, but in one place it was as much as 5.5. Its average height close to the stone was probably about 3 inches, and it thinned out to nothing. If so, a layer of fine earth, 15 inches in breadth and 1.5 inch in average thickness, of sufficient length to surround the whole of the much elongated slab, must have been brought up by the worms in chief part from beneath the stone in the course of 35 years. This amount would be amply sufficient to account for its having sunk about 2 inches into the ground; more especially if we bear in mind that a good deal of the finest earth would have been washed by heavy rain from the castings ejected on the sloping border down to the level of the field. Some fresh castings were seen close to the stone. Nevertheless, on digging a large hole to a depth of 18 inches where the stone had lain, only two worms and a few burrows were seen, although the soil was damp and seemed favourable for worms. There were some large colonies of ants beneath the stone, and possibly since their establishment the worms had decreased in number.

The third stone was only about half as large as the others; and two strong boys could together have rolled it over. I have no doubt that it had been rolled over at a moderately recent time, for it now lay at some distance from the two other stones at the bottom of a little adjoining slope. It rested also on fine earth, instead of partly on brick-rubbish. In agreement with this conclusion, the raised surrounding border of turf was only 1 inch high in some parts, and 2 inches in other parts. There were no colonies of ants beneath this stone, and on digging a hole where it had lain, several burrows and worms were found.

At Stonehenge, some of the outer Druidical stones are now prostrate, having fallen at a remote but unknown period; and these have become buried to a moderate depth in the ground. They are surrounded by sloping borders of turf, on which recent castings were seen. Close to one of these fallen stones, which was 17 ft long, 6 ft. broad, and 28.5 inches thick, a hole was dug; and here the vegetable mould was at least 9.5 inches in thickness. At this depth a flint was found, and a little higher up on one side of the hole a fragment of glass. The base of the stone lay about 9.5 inches beneath the level of the surrounding ground, and its upper surface 19 inches above the ground.

A hole was also dug close to a second huge stone, which in falling had broken into two pieces; and this must have happened long ago, judging from the weathered aspect of the fractured ends. The base was buried to a depth of 10 inches, as was ascertained by driving an iron skewer horizontally into the ground beneath it. The vegetable mould forming the turf-covered sloping border round the stone, on which many castings had recently been ejected, was 10 inches in thickness; and most of this mould must have been brought up by worms from beneath its base. At a distance of 8 yards from the stone, the mould was only 5.5 inches in thickness (with a piece of tobacco pipe at a depth of 4 inches), and this rested on broken flint and chalk which could not have easily yielded to the pressure or weight of the stone.

A straight rod was fixed horizontally (by the aid of a spirit- level) across a third fallen stone, which was 7 feet 9 inches long; and the contour of the projecting parts and of the adjoining ground, which was not quite level, was thus ascertained, as shown in the accompanying diagram (Fig. 7) on a scale of 0.5 inch to a foot. The turf-covered border sloped up to the stone on one side to a height of 4 inches, and on the opposite side to only 2.5 inches above the general level. A hole was dug on the eastern side, and the base of the stone was here found to lie at a depth of 4 inches beneath the general level of the ground, and of 8 inches beneath the top of the sloping turf-covered border.

Sufficient evidence has now been given showing that small objects left on the surface of the land where worms abound soon get buried, and that large stones sink slowly downwards through the same means. Every step of the process could be followed, from the accidental deposition of a single casting on a small object lying loose on the surface, to its being entangled amidst the matted roots of the turf, and lastly to its being embedded in the mould at various depths beneath the surface. When the same field was re-examined after the interval of a few years, such objects were found at a greater depth than before. The straightness and regularity of the lines formed by the imbedded objects, and their parallelism with the surface of the land, are the most striking features of the case; for this parallelism shows how equably the worms must have worked; the result being, however, partly the effect of the washing down of the fresh castings by rain. The specific gravity of the objects does not affect their rate of sinking, as could be seen by porous cinders, burnt marl, chalk and quartz pebbles, having all sunk to the same depth within the same time. Considering the nature of the substratum, which at Leith Hill Place was sandy soil including many bits of rock, and at Stonehenge, chalk-rubble with broken flints; considering, also, the presence of the turf-covered sloping border of mould round the great fragments of stone at both these places, their sinking does not appear to have been sensibly aided by their weight, though this was considerable. {50}

On the number of worms which live within a given space.—We will now show, firstly, what a vast number of worms live unseen by us beneath our feet, and, secondly, the actual weight of the earth which they bring up to the surface within a given space and within a given time. Hensen, who has published so full and interesting an account of the habits of worms, {51} calculates, from the number which he found in a measured space, that there must exist 133,000 living worms in a hectare of land, or 53,767 in an acre. This latter number of worms would weigh 356 pounds, taking Hensen's standard of the weight of a single worm, namely, three grams. It should, however, be noted that this calculation is founded on the numbers found in a garden, and Hensen believes that worms are here twice as numerous as in corn-fields. The above result, astonishing though it be, seems to me credible, judging from the number of worms which I have sometimes seen, and from the number daily destroyed by birds without the species being exterminated. Some barrels of bad ale were left on Mr. Miller's land, {52} in the hope of making vinegar, but the vinegar proved bad, and the barrels were upset. It should be premised that acetic acid is so deadly a poison to worms that Perrier found that a glass rod dipped into this acid and then into a considerable body of water in which worms were immersed, invariably killed them quickly. On the morning after the barrels had been upset, "the heaps of worms which lay dead on the ground were so amazing, that if Mr. Miller had not seen them, he could not have thought it possible for such numbers to have existed in the space." As further evidence of the large number of worms which live in the ground, Hensen states that he found in a garden sixty-four open burrows in a space of 14.5 square feet, that is, nine in 2 square feet. But the burrows are sometimes much more numerous, for when digging in a grass-field near Maer Hall, I found a cake of dry earth, as large as my two open hands, which was penetrated by seven burrows, as large as goose-quills.

Weight of the earth ejected from a single burrow, and from all the burrows within a given space.—With respect to the weight of the earth daily ejected by worms, Hensen found that it amounted, in the case of some worms which he kept in confinement, and which he appears to have fed with leaves, to only 0.5 gram, or less than 8 grains per diem. But a very much larger amount must be ejected by worms in their natural state, at the periods when they consume earth as food instead of leaves, and when they are making deep burrows. This is rendered almost certain by the following weights of the castings thrown up at the mouths of single burrows; the whole of which appeared to have been ejected within no long time, as was certainly the case in several instances. The castings were dried (excepting in one specified instance) by exposure during many days to the sun or before a hot fire.


(Weight in ounces given in parenthesis—DP.)

(1.) Down, Kent (sub-soil red clay, full of flints, over-lying the chalk). The largest casting which I could find on the flanks of a steep valley, the sub-soil being here shallow. In this one case, the casting was not well dried (3.98)

(2.) Down.—Largest casting which I could find (consisting chiefly of calcareous matter), on extremely poor pasture land at the bottom of the valley mentioned under (1.) (3.87)

(3.) Down.—A large casting, but not of unusual size, from a nearly level field, poor pasture, laid down in a grass about 35 years before (1.22)

(4.) Down. Average weight of 11 not large castings ejected on a sloping surface on my lawn, after they had suffered some loss of weight from being exposed during a considerable length of time to rain (0.7)

(5.) Near Nice in France.—Average weight of 12 castings of ordinary dimensions, collected by Dr. King on land which had not been mown for a long time and where worms abounded, viz., a lawn protected by shrubberies near the sea; soil sandy and calcareous; these castings had been exposed for some time to rain, before being collected, and must have lost some weight by disintegration, but they still retained their form (1.37)

(6.) The heaviest of the above twelve castings (1.76)

(7.) Lower Bengal.—Average weight of 22 castings, collected by Mr. J. Scott, and stated by him to have been thrown up in the course of one or two nights (1.24)

(8.) The heaviest of the above 22 castings (2.09)

(9.) Nilgiri Mountains, S. India; average weight of the 5 largest castings collected by Dr. King. They had been exposed to the rain of the last monsoon, and must have lost some weight (3.15)

(10.) The heaviest of the above 5 castings (4.34)

In this table we see that castings which had been ejected at the mouth of the same burrow, and which in most cases appeared fresh and always retained their vermiform configuration, generally exceeded an ounce in weight after being dried, and sometimes nearly equalled a quarter of a pound. On the Nilgiri mountains one casting even exceeded this latter weight. The largest castings in England were found on extremely poor pasture-land; and these, as far as I have seen, are generally larger than those on land producing a rich vegetation. It would appear that worms have to swallow a greater amount of earth on poor than on rich land, in order to obtain sufficient nutriment.

With respect to the tower-like castings near Nice (Nos. 5 and 6 in the above table), Dr. King often found five or six of them on a square foot of surface; and these, judging from their average weight, would have weighed together 7.5 ounces; so that the weight of those on a square yard would have been 4 lb. 3.5 oz. Dr. King collected, near the close of the year 1872, all the castings which still retained their vermiform shape, whether broken down or not, from a square foot, in a place abounding with worms, on the summit of a bank, where no castings could have rolled down from above. These castings must have been ejected, as he judged from their appearance in reference to the rainy and dry periods near Nice, within the previous five or six months; they weighed 9.5 oz., or 5 lb. 5.5 oz. per square yard. After an interval of four months, Dr. King collected all the castings subsequently ejected on the same square foot of surface, and they weighed 2.5 oz., or 1 lb. 6.5 oz. per square yard. Therefore within about ten months, or we will say for safety's sake within a year, 12 oz. of castings were thrown up on this one square foot, or 6.75 pounds on the square yard; and this would give 14.58 tons per acre.

In a field at the bottom of a valley in the chalk (see No. 2 in the foregoing table), a square yard was measured at a spot where very large castings abounded; they appeared, however, almost equally numerous in a few other places. These castings, which retained perfectly their vermiform shape, were collected; and they weighed when partially dried, 1 lb. 13.5 oz. This field had been rolled with a heavy agricultural roller fifty-two days before, and this would certainly have flattened every single casting on the land. The weather had been very dry for two or three weeks before the day of collection, so that not one casting appeared fresh or had been recently ejected. We may therefore assume that those which were weighed had been ejected within, we will say, forty days from the time when the field was rolled,—that is, twelve days short of the whole intervening period. I had examined the same part of the field shortly before it was rolled, and it then abounded with fresh castings. Worms do not work in dry weather during the summer, or in winter during severe frosts. If we assume that they work for only half the year—though this is too low an estimate—then the worms in this field would eject during the year, 8.387 pounds per square yard; or 18.12 tons per acre, assuming the whole surface to be equally productive in castings.

In the foregoing cases some of the necessary data had to be estimated, but in the two following cases the results are much more trustworthy. A lady, on whose accuracy I can implicitly rely, offered to collect during a year all the castings thrown up on two separate square yards, near Leith Hill Place, in Surrey. The amount collected was, however, somewhat less than that originally ejected by the worms; for, as I have repeatedly observed, a good deal of the finest earth is washed away, whenever castings are thrown up during or shortly before heavy rain. Small portions also adhered to the surrounding blades of grass, and it required too much time to detach every one of them.

On sandy soil, as in the present instance, castings are liable to crumble after dry weather, and particles were thus often lost. The lady also occasionally left home for a week or two, and at such times the castings must have suffered still greater loss from exposure to the weather. These losses were, however, compensated to some extent by the collections having been made on one of the squares for four days, and on the other square for two days more than the year.

A space was selected (October 9th, 1870) for one of the squares on a broad, grass-covered terrace, which had been mowed and swept during many years. It faced the south, but was shaded during part of the day by trees. It had been formed at least a century ago by a great accumulation of small and large fragments of sandstone, together with some sandy earth, rammed down level. It is probable that it was at first protected by being covered with turf. This terrace, judging from the number of castings on it, was rather unfavourable for the existence of worms, in comparison with the neighbouring fields and an upper terrace. It was indeed surprising that as many worms could live here as were seen; for on digging a hole in this terrace, the black vegetable mould together with the turf was only four inches in thickness, beneath which lay the level surface of light-coloured sandy soil, with many fragments of sandstone. Before any castings were collected all the previously existing ones were carefully removed. The last day's collection was on October 14th, 1871. The castings were then well dried before a fire; and they weighed exactly 3.5 lbs. This would give for an acre of similar land 7.56 tons of dry earth annually ejected by worms.

The second square was marked on unenclosed common land, at a height of about 700 ft. above the sea, at some little distance from Leith Hill Tower. The surface was clothed with short, fine turf, and had never been disturbed by the hand of man. The spot selected appeared neither particularly favourable nor the reverse for worms; but I have often noticed that castings are especially abundant on common land, and this may, perhaps, be attributed to the poorness of the soil. The vegetable mould was here between three and four inches in thickness. As this spot was at some distance from the house where the lady lived, the castings were not collected at such short intervals of time as those on the terrace; consequently the loss of fine earth during rainy weather must have been greater in this than in the last case. The castings moreover were more sandy, and in collecting them during dry weather they sometimes crumbled into dust, and much was thus lost. Therefore it is certain that the worms brought up to the surface considerably more earth than that which was collected. The last collection was made on October 27th, 1871; i.e., 367 days after the square had been marked out and the surface cleared of all pre-existing castings. The collected castings, after being well dried, weighed 7.453 pounds; and this would give, for an acre of the same kind of land, 16.1 tons of annually ejected dry earth.


(1.) Castings ejected near Nice within about a year, collected by Dr. King on a square foot of surface, calculated to yield per acre 14.58 tons.

(2.) Castings ejected during about 40 days on a square yard, in a field of poor pasture at the bottom of a large valley in the Chalk, calculated to yield annually per acre 18.12 tons.

(3.) Castings collected from a square yard on an old terrace at Leith Hill Place, during 369 days, calculated to yield annually per acre 7.56 tons.

(4.) Castings collected from a square yard on Leith Hill Common during 367 days, calculated to yield annually per acre 16.1 tons.

The thickness of the layer of mould, which castings ejected during a year would form if uniformly spread out.—As we know, from the two last cases in the above summary, the weight of the dried castings ejected by worms during a year on a square yard of surface, I wished to learn how thick a layer of ordinary mould this amount would form if spread uniformly over a square yard. The dry castings were therefore broken into small particles, and whilst being placed in a measure were well shaken and pressed down. Those collected on the Terrace amounted to 124.77 cubic inches; and this amount, if spread out over a square yard, would make a layer 0.9627 inch in thickness. Those collected on the Common amounted to 197.56 cubic inches, and would make a similar layer 0.1524 inch in thickness,

These thicknesses must, however, be corrected, for the triturated castings, after being well shaken down and pressed, did not make nearly so compact a mass as vegetable mould, though each separate particle was very compact. Yet mould is far from being compact, as is shown by the number of air-bubbles which rise up when the surface is flooded with water. It is moreover penetrated by many fine roots. To ascertain approximately by how much ordinary vegetable mould would be increased in bulk by being broken up into small particles and then dried, a thin oblong block of somewhat argillaceous mould (with the turf pared off) was measured before being broken up, was well dried and again measured. The drying caused it to shrink by 1/7 of its original bulk, judging from exterior measurements alone. It was then triturated and partly reduced to powder, in the same manner as the castings had been treated, and its bulk now exceeded (notwithstanding shrinkage from drying) by 1/16 that of the original block of damp mould. Therefore the above calculated thickness of the layer, formed by the castings from the Terrace, after being damped and spread over a square yard, would have to be reduced by 1/16; and this will reduce the layer to 0.09 of an inch, so that a layer 0.9 inch in thickness would be formed in the course of ten years. On the same principle the castings from the Common would make in the course of a single year a layer 0.1429 inch, or in the course of 10 years 1.429 inch, in thickness. We may say in round numbers that the thickness in the former case would amount to nearly 1 inch, and in the second case to nearly 1.5 inch in 10 years.

In order to compare these results with those deduced from the rates at which small objects left on the surfaces of grass-fields become buried (as described in the early part of this chapter), we will give the following summary:-


The accumulation of mould during 14.75 years on the surface of a dry, sandy, grass-field near Maer Hall, amounted to 2.2 inches in 10 years.

The accumulation during 21.5 years on a swampy field near Maer Hall, amounted to nearly 1.9 inch in 10 years.

The accumulation during 7 years on a very swampy field near Maer Hall amounted to 2.1 inches in 10 years.

The accumulation during 29 years, on good, argillaceous pasture- land over the Chalk at Down, amounted to 2.2 inches in 10 years.

The accumulation during 30 years on the side of a valley over the Chalk at Down, the soil being argillaceous, very poor, and only just converted into pasture (so that it was for some years unfavourable for worms), amounted to 0.83 inch in 10 years.

In these cases (excepting the last) it may be seen that the amount of earth brought to the surface during 10 years is somewhat greater than that calculated from the castings which were actually weighed. This excess may be partly accounted for by the loss which the weighed castings had previously undergone through being washed by rain, by the adhesion of particles to the blades of the surrounding grass, and by their crumbling when dry. Nor must we overlook other agencies which in all ordinary cases add to the amount of mould, and which would not be included in the castings that were collected, namely, the fine earth brought up to the surface by burrowing larvae and insects, especially by ants. The earth brought up by moles generally has a somewhat different appearance from vegetable mould; but after a time would not be distinguishable from it. In dry countries, moreover, the wind plays an important part in carrying dust from one place to another, and even in England it must add to the mould on fields near great roads. But in our country these latter several agencies appear to be of quite subordinate importance in comparison with the action of worms.

We have no means of judging how great a weight of earth a single full-sized worm ejects during a year. Hensen estimates that 53,767 worms exist in an acre of land; but this is founded on the number found in gardens, and he believes that only about half as many live in corn-fields. How many live in old pasture land is unknown; but if we assume that half the above number, or 26,886 worms live on such land, then taking from the previous summary 15 tons as the weight of the castings annually thrown up on an acre of land, each worm must annually eject 20 ounces. A full-sized casting at the mouth of a single burrow often exceeds, as we have seen, an ounce in weight; and it is probable that worms eject more than 20 full- sized castings during a year. If they eject annually more than 20 ounces, we may infer that the worms which live in an acre of pasture land must be less than 26,886 in number.

Worms live chiefly in the superficial mould, which is usually from 4 or 5 to 10 and even 12 inches in thickness; and it is this mould which passes over and over again through their bodies and is brought to the surface. But worms occasionally burrow into the subsoil to a much greater depth, and on such occasions they bring up earth from this greater depth; and this process has gone on for countless ages. Therefore the superficial layer of mould would ultimately attain, though at a slower and slower rate, a thickness equal to the depth to which worms ever burrow, were there not other opposing agencies at work which carry away to a lower level some of the finest earth which is continually being brought to the surface by worms. How great a thickness vegetable mould ever attains, I have not had good opportunities for observing; but in the next chapter, when we consider the burial of ancient buildings, some facts will be given on this head. In the two last chapters we shall see that the soil is actually increased, though only to a small degree, through the agency of worms; but their chief work is to sift the finer from the coarser particles, to mingle the whole with vegetable debris, and to saturate it with their intestinal secretions.

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