Worm stone used to measure movement of soil by earthworms

Earthworm stone used by Darwin to measure how much soil earthworms move. This stone was reconstructed by his son's company Cambridge Instrument Company, photographed in 1932.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org licence CC BY 4.0

Charles Darwin is best known for his contribution to the theory of evolution and his book On the Origin of Species but he was also fascinated by earthworms whose behaviour he observed and experimented on in his garden at Down House, Downe, Kent. Darwin’s book The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits is the result of his 40 year study on earthworms, including a 29 year experiment measuring the rate that a stone is buried by the burrowing activities of earthworms. ‘Worms’ as it is affectionately known was very popular, initially outselling On the Origin of Species with 6,000 copies in the first year, and was to be Darwin’s last scientific book, published in October 1881 just six months before he died.

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Worm Composting Bins at Garden Organic HQ at Ryton Gardens 

The amount of food that is not eaten and goes to waste worldwide is staggering. According to WRAP, in the UK, 85% of food arising from households and food manufacturing goes to waste (with household waste making up 70%).

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Keiron confirming an earthworm identification

Earthworm Watch is a collaboration between Earthwatch, The Natural History Museum and the Earthworm Society of Britain. The Earthworm Society (ESB) is a voluntary organization that plays an important part in supporting scientific research to improve the conservation of earthworms and their habitats and educates and inspires people to take action to help earthworms.

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Two Lumbricus festivus earthworms on a hand

Lumbricus festivus from an allotment in Lymington, note the prominent male pore between the saddle and the head.

I came across the earthworm species Lumbricus festivus while sampling an allotment as part of my PhD recently and it was remarked how appropriate the name was for this time of year, so I thought I would profile it on the Earthworm Watch blog.

Lumbricus festivus is one of the less well known earthworm species in the UK and less common earthworm species, with less than 100 records in the National Earthworm Recording Scheme, although this is probably due to under-recording rather than true rarity.

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British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2016

British Ecological Society Annual Meeting t-shirt and programme

If a scientist does research and doesn’t tell anyone about it, have they done research at all?

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Today is World Soil Day – an important annual occasion aimed at raising awareness of the critical role that soils play in our lives. Soils are important for everyone, as almost everything we need to survive is dependent on them. If you think about the clothes on your back, the food that you eat, the air that you breathe or the water that you drink, essentially it can be traced back to the soil.

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Dr. Alan Jones, our Research Manager at Earthwatch Institute has been analysing the results of our soil carbon analysis following our spring Earthworm Watch campaign. We can now have a first look at the relationship between earthworm numbers and our soil colour chart which indicates soil carbon content. From the start of Earthworm Watch, one of our aims was to try to understand how soil carbon content might influence earthworm numbers.

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Immature example of the earthworm species Helodrilus oculatus

Immature Helodrilus oculatus found at the London Wetland Centre

On Saturday 22nd October Earthwatch Watch visited the London Wetland Centre to promote the Earthworm Watch survey and take part in earthworm activities with visitors. During the day Emma Sherlock (curator of earthworms at the Natural History Museum, London) and I went searching for some specialist wetland earthworms. There are four species of earthworms in the UK with a strong preference for living in waterlogged conditions such as wetlands.

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Earthworm Watch display at Science Uncovered

Earthworm Watch display at Science Uncovered, Natural History Museum, London

Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers' Night, and is a free annual festival of science held at various institutions across the UK giving the public the opporunity to discover rare items from the Museum collections, meet experts and take part in interactive science stations, debates and behind-the-scenes tours. This is the fourth Science Uncovered I have attended but the first where I have talked solely about Earthworm Watch and earthworm research.

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Eisenia fetida. Photographed by Harry Taylor, copyright: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Eisenia fetida. Photographed by Harry Taylor, copyright: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Eisenia fetida is very easily identified by its striped appearance of alternating broad, dark red-brown bands and narrower, pale pink or yellowish bands. Its saddle (the clitellum) is generally the same dark red-brown as the rest of its body.  The species identifier of its binomial namefetida, means foul-smelling, and as it suggests the earthworm can exude an odd smelling yellowish fluid if disturbed – bear this in mind if you decide to handle them. It typically measures 2-6mm in width and 26-130mm in length.

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About Us

Earthworm Watch is a collaboration between Earthwatch Institute (Europe) and the Natural History Museum in London

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