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Earthworms Are Creatures That Have Two Faces
Earthworms Are Creatures That Have Two Faces
Published by Chomp
Default Earthworms Are Creatures That Have Two Faces

Earthworms Are Creatures That Have Two Faces

By Chomp

Earthworms are creatures that have two faces. Some people say these humble creatures are the best thing that ever happened to a farmer, and others say that they are horrible invasive creatures that actually make the environment worse. I for one, think that earthworms are bad. What do you think? Do you think that worms are the greatest for this area, or do you think they are just plain bad for the environment?

It is a basic fact that has been taught as early as kindergarten that earthworms mix and aerate the ground we walk on, but some of the studies now are saying that earthworms and worms in general are bad for the environment. Many of the scientists studying worms and how they affect forests are starting to see decreases in native plants that belong in the understory of forests and increases in invasive plants such as European Buckthorn. The scientists are also seeing decreases in the amount of nutrients in the ground that plants of the understory of a forest need to grow.

So what do earthworms do? Well, first off, there are three different types of earthworms. There are those that dwell on the surface, those that dwell underground, and those that do both. The types of worms that dwell on the surface are called Epigeic. These worms eat leaves which sometimes helps the environment but usually never does. These worms also do not have burrows which the typical worm does. Then there are the Anecic worms; these worms have burrows, but they also will come above ground to feed on leaves deposited on the ground. Finally we have the Endogeic worms. These worms live solely under the ground and feed on minerals in the soil. Earthworms do many things including aerating the soil with their castings (earthworm poo) which makes the soil much better for growing. Depending on the soil and the type of worm calling the soil home, will either become more aerated or more compact. Earthworms are invasive to this region (The Great Lakes Area). Although the earthworms can still be good for the environment, they are usually much worse for it.

Earthworms alter the ground in forests and fields. Because of this, some of the plants that had grown in the area are wiped out over time and replaced by other species of plants, so an oak forest could be turned into a field of brush or turned into plains. Earthworms till fields, aerate forests, and do wonders for the ground, but there is a darker side to worms. They also alter the ground and change the ecosystem.

Well, we know that the worms in this region are invasive, but where did the earthworms that used to be in this area go? They could not have just vanished off the face of the earth. These worms must have gone somewhere. Luckily, scientists have an explanation for this. Long ago when glaciers still covered this region and were still receding further and further north, they plowed up the ground and all the earthworms in it. So now instead of the old earthworms that went away with the glaciers, we are stuck with all these invasive earthworms from Europe and Asia that do not belong here in America. That is how earthworms were wiped out from this region.

Where did the invasive earthworms come from you ask? Well, like I said before these worms came from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Did you know in ancient Egypt, if a farmer stole another farmer’s earthworms he could lose a hand? Well that is a true law found in hieroglyphics in Egypt. This helps to prove that some earthworms came from Africa. Earthworms did not come by themselves; humans brought them over. Humans that did not know the long term effects of these worms, and by humans that did not bother to check their cargo before they shipped it off to America. Worms are also spread by those careless fishers who dump out all of their worms after they are done using them. Earthworms can be good for your garden, but they aren’t exactly good for the environment. Like I have said before, earthworms make it good for many plants to grow that were not originally here first, and although some native plants do fine with earthworms in the soil, this alteration of the environment is better for non-native plants such as European Buckthorn and Japanese Honeysuckle. These plants were brought over from Europe and Asia and soon adapted to the tunnels created by the worms here. Now because of the worms we have two highly invasive plants that are taking over native forests.

The lower floor of the forest called the understory, is where the most important plants of a forest grow. The plants of the understory control temperatures on the floor of a forest keeping it not to hot, and not to cold. The understory of the forest acts as a moisture barrier that keeps the moisture level of the forest floor in check. The worms destroy this understory which over time affects the rest of the forest. This also destroys all those autotrophs (plants or Eukarya [one of the three domains of all living things that contains plants, fungi, animalia, and protists] that create their own food) in the understory of the forest that provide food for heteratrophs or, animals from the domain of Eukarya that eat autotrophs to gain energy. This disturbance ends up messing up the whole ecosystem. This eventually destroys the ecosystem, and we lose many of the creatures indigenous to the area. Worms also eat out the “rooting area” of plants, or, in other words, eating the nutrients and altering the soil that plants put their roots in. These worms do not allow the mixing of materials in the ground, that allows water to sink deeper into the ground and these worms make it so that the soil is much denser (compaction).

There are many many many types of worms in the Great Lakes Region; these worms can be a farmer’s best friend. I will list a couple of these worms and give a brief description of them. The Red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) is a great help to the gardener. This worm can create a very plant-nutritious layer of black soil that helps garden plants grow. Many people use these five centimeter long worms as natural composters and keep them in worm boxes.

The night crawler (Lumbricus terrestris) this eleven centimeter worm is any fisherman’s friend. These are thought to be by many fishermen as one of the best worms to catch fish with because it is large and “juicy”. More than 20 million dollars worth of these worms are exported from Canada every year. These worms are invasive (from Canada) are bought by fishermen everywhere and when the fishermen are done with the worms sometimes they dump them out into the wild where they cause damage to the environment.

Can you tell the difference between the two pictures below? Well, the picture on the left has not been invaded by earthworms, but the picture on the right depicts a forest that has been attacked. See the difference?

Red wigglers may be a farmer’s and a gardener’s friend, but they do not respect boundaries. So because you want a beautiful garden you can be hurting the environment by introducing worms. Unless you take the right steps to keep your worms in your garden you can be hurting the environment.

The worms in the Great Lakes Region now are all from some other place (besides the Great Lakes Region) so they are all hurting us, and although they sometimes help the economy, they can and do hurt the environment in so many different ways.

Have you ever seen a robin pulling worms out of the ground? Well the worm is a staple for many underground (subterranean) creatures, and some birds such as: moles, shrews, and robins. If you think that these animals are eating earthworms because they are part of the natural eco system, well, you’re wrong. These are only quick adaptations made over short periods of time. So even if you do see some animals eating these worms, they probably lost another source of food and just started eating these worms.

Are these worms everywhere in the America? Well, these invasive worms may be in the Great Lakes Region, but they are not everywhere in America. The areas in America that will be most likely to have exotic worms in them are the areas with the most humans in them. Yes, humans spread earthworms in some of the simplest of activities as driving (earthworms could be caught in dirt stuck in your wheels, or stuck in dirt in the bottom of your car) or giving people birthday presents (if the birthday present is a plant that will be placed in a garden, the earthworm could be caught on the roots and then transferred into the dirt. Worms are also probably the easiest of animals to spread you can spread them just about in every dirt, or plant related way you can think of; and once the earthworms are in an area they are extremely (believe me) Extremely hard to get rid of.

There are many different lengths, sizes, and colors of worms.
In the Great Lakes Region there are many more species of worms than you can imagine. I will list a few more. Here are the worms. These worms are all found in the Great Lakes Region and are very helpful to farmers, gardeners, and fishers.Earthworm number one is probably one of the most common worms in this Region. This worm is usually not the type to catch fish with and is not usually sold for bait.

1. Canadian Gray Worm (Angle Worm) is a worm that is found usually found in the soil, thus it is Endogeic. It can be used for bait, but it is small enough where you will not catch any big whooper fish.
2. Black Head Worm (also Endogeic).This worm is very helpful to the economy. This worm is so helpful it is the most commonly used in agriculture and farming. Without this worm there would definitely be a lot less crops and a lot less food around for us to eat.
3. Small Leaf Worm. This worm is the most common in America and is invasive. It is the worm that can take over areas the most quickly. Out of all the species of worm, this is one of the worst, it’s not good for much except for gardening but it can destroy whole forests much quicker than the typical worm can.
4. Leaf Worm. This is also another common worm in the Great Lakes Region. This worm is usually sold for bait. This worm is also a destroyer of lakeside ecosystems. This is the most common situation because, that is where most of the fishermen release these worms after a day of fishing.

There are many ways to control invasive worms, but unfortunately all these ways are all not thorough enough to get rid of or control the worms for our benefit. One of the ways we can control the worms, is by using a worm box. Many people use these boxes to help control them, and also they use these boxes to help produce food and grow better gardens.
The people who use the worms keep them in boxes to create compost, or very nutrient rich soil, which is very good for growing plants and helping farmers to grow more cash crops. So these boxes help us to help stop the worms from escaping and, to help the economy and not harm the environment.

These boxes are created to maximize the worm’s health and maximize the worm’s production of fresh nutrient filled compost. If you wanted to start a worm box, you would need to cut a sheet of plywood to the correct dimensions and drill holes on the side. Put a layer of dirt down and a layer of bedding, something to keep the worms comfortable. Then put them together according to some better directions. Add the worms and bam! Your very own worm box!

Now add your rotten food and compostable material, wait a few months and now you have your compost. Put it on your garden and you can watch your garden grow.

Here is another way to control worms. You can use a solution of mustard oil to draw the worms to the surface. This solution works because the mustard in the water makes the worm’s skin irritated so the worms will try to avoid it by coming up to the surface. When they are at the surface you can collect them. This is only recommended for cleaning up small patches of land.

Earthworms have many different parts that enable them to destroy forests. Here are the major parts of the worm that help to “manipulate” the soil.

Earthworms have mouths called proboscis. There are two types of mouths that earthworms can have, Epioblic and Tanylobic. The Epiobic mouth is much more common in Lumbricidae (one of the two most dominate species of earthworm) while the other type of earthworm mouth is more commonly found on the other dominate species of worms known as Lumbricus.

All earthworms have clitellum from where the baby earthworms come from. This helps the Earthworm to reproduce making more of the worms to “manipulate” the soil. There are few types of clitellum, a Non-Flared Saddle-shaped cell and its opposite the Flared Saddle-Shaped clitellum. These are just two. There are a few more; the most common of the clitellum is the Saddle-Shaped clitellum.

Worms are very complex creatures. They have many more parts and can do some very complex things and can destroy Midwestern and North American forests and ecosystems. Luckily, earthworms are spread slowly if left alone. The spread of earthworms would only take a year with human hands; but can take decades without us.

Earthworms can reproduce at a break neck pace making them harder to neutralize and destroy. Earthworms’ eggs (casings) can contain two to twelve wormlings.

After the earthworms get out of their eggs in the spring, they go into the soil or go under some brush. About half the worms in a casing hatch. When the earthworms first hatch, they are tiny, white, and stringy little creatures. After a while these worms transform into a pigmented larger form of the original worm. In a month or so the worm is fully developed with all its organs. Earthworms live a short amount of time which is usually six months to one year. Also, worms develop and grow much faster than we do, meaning they can reproduce faster.

Worms are easily distinguished by their color. Worms can also be told apart by their organs, by the sizes of the organs, the size of the species, and the area in which the organs are found.

Here are some more earthworms, I will list their characteristics and their names.
1. Swamp Worm. This worm is a terror to swamps, it is usually white. This worm can also be green and is three to seven centimeters long. This worm likes to live in swampy regions. The Great Lakes Region is full of swampy areas.
2. Field Worm. This worm lives in soil and is a pink color. This worm is about three centimeters long and is not very common.
3. Rose Worm. This worm can be pink or white and lives all through out the Great Lakes Region. This worm is usually two centimeters to five centimeters, but a few people have seen eight centimeter worms.
4. Jumping Worm. This worm is originally from Asia and is one of the newest exotic species in the Great Lakes Region. This worm is usually six centimeters long. This worm lives above ground.

So earthworms are some very complex creature. Earthworms come in many different shapes and sizes, some very large some very small some in-between. There are also many different mysteries surrounding them that many people have a good idea about but are not one-hundred percent sure about, such as how did the native Earthworm species disappear and how did the exotic species of worms get here.

Not all worms are bad. There are some Northamerican worms, but none are native to the Great Lakes Region. Earthworms create a layer of top soil that is preferable to most garden plants. Some worms create a layer of top soil that is very rich in nutrients for only a few types of plants. Earthworms also create an area great for growing exotic plants by destroying the understory of forests. This eventually upsets the whole ecosystem of the forest and all the animals that live there.

Worms are great for fishing and really help boost the economy, but earthworms are extremely hard to control correctly. It is hard to get rid of a whole species. Earthworms are great composters, but they spread far too easily. So I guess you can say that earthworms are your friend, but you know what they say? Who needs enemies with friends like them?
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By Chomp on 08-11-2009, 02:48 PM

I wrote this a year and a half back when I was 12 to express an issue that not too many people know exist. My teacher didn't know earthworms had two faces. Now I'm 14 and I'm a Life Scout with Boy Scouts. I hope you like this.
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By Stoloniferous on 08-11-2009, 03:50 PM

Chomp, what a fantastic paper you wrote! And on such a great issue!
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By hazelnut on 08-11-2009, 04:03 PM

Hey Chomp! Welcome to the WildlifeGardeners website.

You ask some interesting questions. I myself do not like worms very much. But when I see earthworms under my rabbit cages I think: 'this is a good thing. They are making soil that will help grow my vegetables in the fall.'

As you probably already know, Charles Darwin studied earthworms and wrote about them:

The Formation Of Vegetable Mould - Introduction by Charles Darwin

I wonder what else you are interested in besides earthworms.
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By biigblueyes on 08-12-2009, 08:58 AM

Wow - that's a great article you posted. It's obvious that much research went into it, and you "know your stuff"!

p.s. - dont' tell anyone, but I LIKE earthworms. I have nasty clay soil, and I loooveee finding them in my garden - they work wonders for me.
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By jpdenk on 08-12-2009, 09:08 AM

Hello Chomp,

A very interesting report! I knew that we had problems with exotic worms here around the Great Lakes, but I wasn't aware that we don't have any native species of earthworms here.

Now I'm glad that I have a yard full of worm-eating Robins, even if they do muddy up the birdbath every morning. ;-)

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By Equilibrium on 08-12-2009, 07:53 PM

Great report. Nooooo, fantastic report. You're one special and incredibly intelligent young man to be able to grasp such complex issues.
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By NEBogger on 08-13-2009, 06:06 PM

I never gave thought to 'native earthworms' until earlier this year. To hear such bad things about earthworms made my jaw drop. I've since read a lot more about it, as it has been reported in more gardening magazines.
Thanks for the article Chomp.
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By Porterbrook on 08-16-2009, 07:45 AM

Congratulations on an excellent article. Keep up the good work.
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By Staff on 10-05-2011, 11:58 AM

The underground master of invasive species – earthworms
Sep 26 2011 Brian Bienkowski
Great Lakes Echo

The underground master of invasive species ? earthworms | Great Lakes Echo
excerpt from above:
When worms invade they eat the duff, disrupting the natural growth of forests, killing off smaller plants and flowers and ruining habitats.

“The most visible impact that people notice from heavy or long-term worm infestations is decline in diversity in understory plant communities – herbs, plants, flowers, ferns,” said Cindy Hale, research associate with the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota-Duluth…
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