Worms and Flowers

Darwin: The Father of Vermicompost

Posted in History, Worms by Lzyjo on December 24, 2008

Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, the father of modern modern science and also the father vermicomposting. As early as 1837 Darwin was studying worms and read a paper on the subject before the Geological Society of London. Darwin’s last book, published in 1881, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits, thoroughly details the biology of the worm and his experiments keeping worms in pots. Darwin hypothesized that the entire layer of topsoil had been ingested and excreted by earthworms. As with most new ideas, this hypothesis was challenged.

“In the year 1869, Mr. Fish rejected my conclusions with respect to the part which worms have played in the formation of vegetable mould, merely on account of their assumed incapacity to do so much work. He remarks that ‘considering their weakness and their size, the work they are represented to have accomplished is stupendous.’  Here we have an instance of that inability to sum up the effects of
a continually recurrent cause, which has often retarded the
progress of science, as formerly in the case of geology, and more
recently in that of the principle of evolution.”

This criticism didn’t deter Darwin, rather pushed him to conduct further studies to obtain better evidence. And indeed he did, testing the worms’ sense of smell and feeling, by holding tobacco juice and perfume saturated cotton balls near the worms burrows and using hot pokers and candles to determine whether worms were more sensitive to heat or light.

Darwin fed his potted worms rotted leaves, cabbage, onions, even meat and fat, checking to see how quickly the food was pulled back into the burrow.

Worm Facts from Darwin’s book:

Worms can break down rocks to use in their gizzards.
A Worm can consume 10 tons of material annually.
Worms can undermine building foundations and stonework not deeply anchored in the earth.
Ancient artifacts have been preserved under think layers of worm castings.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits and other books by Charles Darwin are available by public domain on Project Gutenberg.

Tagged with: , , ,