Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/313

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299
EARTH-WORMS AND THEIR WORKS.
PSM V20 D313 Section of a subsided floor at silchester.jpg

Fig. 9—A North and South Section through the Subsided Floor of a Corridor Paved with Tesseræ. Outside the broken-down bounding walls, the excavated ground on each side is shown for a short space. nature of the ground beneath the teseræ unknown. Silchester. Scale: 1/36

by bringing earth to the surface in their castings, to be blown away by the winds and washed away by the rains into the valleys. They are extraordinarily numerous. Hensen says there are 53,767 of them in an acre of garden-soil, and Mr. Darwin is willing to allow half that number, or 20,886, to the acre in corn-fields and pasture-lands; and as in many parts of England a weight of more than ten tons of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre, the whole superficial bed of vegetable mold must pass through them every few years. By triturating this earth, by subjecting its minerals to the action of the humus acids, and by periodically exposing the mold to the air, they prepare the ground in an excellent manner for the growth of fibrous-rooted plants and for seedlings. The bones of dead animals, the harder parts of insects, the shells of land-mollusks, leaves, twigs, etc., are before long all buried beneath the accumulated castings of worms, and are thus brought in a more or less decayed state within reach of the roots of plants. Leaves are digested by them and converted into humus. Their burrows, penetrating to a depth of five or six feet, are believed to aid materially in the drainage and ventilation of the ground. They also facilitate the downward passage of roots of moderate size, which are nourished by the humus with which the burrows are lined. Many seeds owe their germination to having been covered by castings; others, buried more deeply, lie dormant till they are brought under conditions favorable to germination. "The plow," says Mr. Darwin, in conclusion, "is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man's inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly plowed, and still continues to be thus plowed, by earth-worms. It may be doubted whether there are many ether animals