Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

March 29, 2007

Gimme a “C”

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:55 pm

March 28, 2007

It is a fact that earthworms contort into interesting letters when they dry up. As a result of the tremendous thunderstorm last night, an exodus of worm life was forced to the surface. Of those individuals that didnt make it back to safety by the following noon, the lucky ones were victimized by robins. The unfortunate stragglers were dried by the rising sun and baked into letters such as J, I, C and an even G. An occasional free spirit did attempt to create an infinity symbol or the Chinese character for help

Seeing all those dried bodies caused me to wonder just how many earthworms there really are down there in the soil beneath my feet. Finding this answer could prove difficult.

Since worms usually only come to the surface at night to feed on plant material, they go about their daily lives pretty much out of our sight. Even when they do come out, they try to keep their hinder end within the protection of the burrow. By a swift contraction of the body, they pull back into the hole at the first sign of danger. They have tiny hairs that anchor them into the walls of the tunnel. Later, they turn around and deposit a little pile of earthy poo at the surface. This is called a casting. A casting consists of undigested soil particles and other poo type things (and I dont mean Winny). There are so many worms pooing so much that they move tons of earth annually they are natures cultivators. This gets us back to the primary question of how many worms there are per acre. I needed a way to count.

I could stand out in the middle of the next thunderstorm and take a head count, but that would mean risking a lightening strike and ending up as a C shape corpse on the wet pavement. I decided for the moment to simply try to count the worm trails left on the muddy ground. Perhaps I could estimate numbers by extrapolation.

I measured out a six inch square and tallied exactly 14 worm trails 12 skinny ones and two big ones. Lets see, if there are 14 worm trails in 6 square then there would be 28, no40 something in a square foot and.never mind. This didnt make sense. How was I to know which way the worms were going and how could I rule out that some of these were return trails. For all I knew, there were 6 skinny worms and one fat one that passed back & forth over this piece of ground. Perhaps the fat one traveled back and forth so many times that he lost weight and performed 6 more trips as a skinny worm.

Seeing this was no good, I hit the internet for an answer. The first site I went to offered a reprint of a 1969 Dupage Co. Nature Bulletin. In it, was the statement that there were two million earthworms per acre of good ground. It went on to say that would be a total of 1,000 lbs. of live worms, although didnt specify how many of these were skinny worms. The next site, however, quoted 148,000 per acre in a cultivated field and 584,000 in an unplowed field. The third authoritatively stated that one million per acre was a good figure 25 per square foot.

By the time I hit upon 50,000 per acre on site number four, it was becoming obvious that nobody really knew and that they were making numbers up. It is perfectly reasonable, then, for me to pick a number between five and five million as my population estimate. I predict that there are approximately 324,234 worms per acre in my patch of earth. At least my estimate has the realistic touch because everybody knows that you can not count on getting whole worms when digging them up out of the ground. I also know that nobody can prove me wrong without risking a lightening bolt from heaven.

On a final note, I have to say that the eminent naturalist Charles Darwin estimated that there were some 50,000 worms per acre on his plot of English turf. Like all good naturalists, he took it a step further and brought a few worms back to his study for, well, study. He put the two worms into two flower pots and placed them on his piano. He started to plink out a few notes while contemplating his research. To his surprise, he noticed that they reacted strongly when he struck a C note on both the bass and treble clefts. They reacted only mildly to a G and paid no heed to the rest of the scale.

Now, thats the kind of precise thing that we can sink our teeth into. No guessing here (well forgive the 50,000 thing). Personally, I think the worms are recoiling in horror at the thought of drying up into C shapes.

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