Why Do Earthworms Require a Wet Environment?

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Earthworms are considered a nuisance in some areas of the world, while in others they are found to be very beneficial. In some countries, the earthworm has been found to reach 22 feet, while others may reach only a couple of inches. Your front yard or garden will contain a couple of varieties of earthworms. Earthworms have been found to travel in herds, they communicate through touch, sending signals to each other; babies are born from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.

History

  • Earthworms are not a native species to North America. The earthworm is native to Europe and Asia. Currently over 100 species of earthworms reside in North America. It is surmised by the Department of Natural Resources, that the first earthworms were introduced during the 1800's to early 1900's during the settlements, bringing potted plants that more than likely carried the egg cases or worms themselves. The ships also used rocks and soil as ballasts, when no longer needed were dumped on the shores.

Habitat

  • The earthworm survives best in a warm, moist soil. If the soil becomes too dry, the earthworm will either seek out better conditions or curl up into a ball to wait for the conditions to change. If the conditions do not change the earthworm will die from suffocation. The earthworm breaths through its slimy skin, the slim helps to keep the worms skin supple, aiding it in breathing. The skin of the earthworm requires moisture to allow the worm to breath. Too much water and suffocation is possible. Earthworms survive in lower altitudes where there is plenty of debris for them to consume.

Diet

  • Earthworms consume the dead and decomposing materials laying on the ground, obtaining the nutrition from the fungus and bacteria derived from decomposition. Research has shown that in one year 16,000 pounds of soil will pass through the earthworm.

Benefits

  • The various species of earthworms provide a valuable service to gardens, orchards and crops around the world. As the earthworm tunnels through the soil creating tunnels and leaving the waste behind, the ground is aerated, the waste called castings is rich in nitrogen. The tunnels left behind by the earthworms allow water and oxygen to flow through the soil and in some cases, are helpful in preventing soil erosion. Shallow tilling of the soil will keep your earthworms happy, well fed and help them maintain the proper amount of moisture.

Types

  • There are three basic beneficial earthworms; Epigeic worms live in the surface soils, eating the plant debris and leaving behind casting rich in nitrogen. The Endogeic worms live deeper into the soil, tunneling horizontally and eating the rich organic soil. Then the Anecic worm or night crawlers that burrow deep into the soil returning to the surface to eat manure and other debris. The Department of Natural Resources considers the earthworm invasive in Minnesota and hazardous to the survival of the hardwood trees because the earthworms eat the dead leaves, consuming the matter which protects new trees and wildflowers. Over all there are more than 7,000 species of earthworm.

References

  • Photo Credit Earthworms image by Ana Dudnic from Fotolia.com worms image by Adrian Hillman from Fotolia.com crops image by Dragana Petrovic from Fotolia.com
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