You’ve probably passed me by without so much as a second glance – in fact, you’d be more likely to tread on me than notice me – but I’ll have you know I’m here and I’m not alone, oh no, there are many of us… just look at that field …there’s over a million of us in there, all quietly toiling away, right beneath your feet.
I ought to introduce myself – I’m an earthworm. If you’re under the impression that “if you’ve seen one earthworm, you’ve seen ‘em all”, then you’ll be surprised to know that there are thousands of species! Some of us like to rootle around in the leaf litter, munching our way along; others prefer to burrow into the soil a little more and make horizontal tunnels for themselves; the more adventurous among us, will borrow deep down into the soil, making lots and lots of vertical tunnels and aerating your soil for you as we go.
You might be wondering how we can travel through the ground so easily? Slime is the answer! We secrete lots of the slippery stuff to allow us to glide through the earth. You might think slime doesn’t sound too sexy, but it’s high in nitrogen, which is also jolly good for the soil and your plants.
Speaking of soil – did you realise that it is very much of our making? We produce the very stuff! How? Mmm, thought you might ask that… well, it’s a bit embarrassing… it comes from our bottoms. Yep, we munch things like dead leaves, roots and little earth-dwelling creatures, then we poop out soil from our rear ends – so just think – when you’re running your fingers through a nice loam, chances are it’s passed through us first!
I’m sure you’ll have heard that you can chop us in half and we can grow back again.. I’d urge you please not to try this! It’s true that if we lose a bit of our tail, we can regenerate it, but if we lose our head, we’re unlikely to survive – I mean would you?!
Most people think of us as being slow and somewhat stupid – but we’re not so daft – we can quickly learn and remember the best underground routes – and we know how to detect predators like moles – I hear you asking how we do this when we have no eyes or ears – the answer is, we’re very sensitive to vibrations, so we know they’re coming our way and beat a hasty retreat.
We have to watch out, because we seem to feature heavily on many a dinner menu, moles, birds, rodents, mammals, reptiles – you name it, they eat us! We’re seen as a tasty takeaway treat, so we have to try to keep a low profile and only tend to emerge at night – we’re sensitive to light – too much brightness can send us into a trance – so it’s dwelling on the dark-side for us.
If things aren’t up to our liking, then we will relocate ourselves to a more suitable patch. If your flower beds are too tidy and there isn’t enough organic matter for us to munch on, we’ll head for pastures new! We stick together too – sometimes quite literally – and if we feel threatened, we’ll huddle in a bunch to keep ourselves moist.
I wouldn’t want you to think we’re weak – us worms work out! We can move about 1,000 times more weight than you can – that’s some going – maybe you should hit the gym to build up your strength a bit?!
When it comes to affairs of the heart (well hearts to be precise, as we have 5!), we’re a rather a romantic lot. We like to get to know a potential mate first and we will go calling at their burrows several times to give us the chance to build up some rapport. Our intended ones will also pay us visits too – so we carry out a cute courtship before embarking on more intimate matters.
Once we do decide on ‘the one’ for us, we will get together to produce tiny eggs that hatch out into miniature worms. You thought we could do this without a mate? Well, even though we are hermaphrodite, we still need one another to reproduce – it’s just that we identify as both male and female – and why not?!
If you’re still not feeling the love for us worms – I have to admit we probably wouldn’t be winning first prize in the cutest critters contest – here’s a thought for you – without us you wouldn’t be able to produce any of your crops and not much in the way of plants and vegetation would grow either; so spare a thought for the little wiggly workers under your feet!