The fried egg worm Archipheretima middeltoni from the Phillipines © Sam James

One of the amazing things about working on earthworms is the fact that sooo little is known about them! This coupled with the fact that the more you discover about earthworms the more incredible they are, makes them, in my opinion, the best animals to work on. You can feel a little like the early explorers must have done when on fieldwork to countries with no species lists and real knowledge of their earthworm fauna; every stone you turn or every log you sort through can bring about the discovery of something new to science and certainly new for the country. Also everything is new for you.

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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 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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How many earthworms and data sets have we recorded so far?

The humble earthworm is often out of sight and out of mind, with many only surfacing under the cover of darkness to feed and mate. Despite our chance encounters with elusive earthworms, these salt of the earth creatures are busy continually ploughing the soil under our feet. This tireless burrowing has earned them the nickname of ecosystem engineers, as their burrows structure the earth, creating pores that stop the soil becoming waterlogged, by increasing water infiltration rates of up to 10 fold.

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Deep living earthworm Lumbricus terrestris on autumn leaves

Deep living earthworm Lumbricus terrestris on autumn leaves

By taking part in Earthworm Watch in your garden, allotment or other green space near you, the team hope you’ve had the opportunity to record your observations of surface, soil and deep-living earthworms. You can find out more about these earthworm eco-types (which refers to their feeding habits and where they live within the soil) by visiting the science section of our website.

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The Bobbit(t) worm Eunice aphroditois mentioned by Emma Sherlock in her weird wormy wonders talk at the ESB AGM © Jenny Huang CC BY 2.0

The Bobbit(t) worm Eunice aphroditois mentioned by Emma Sherlock in her weird wormy wonders talk at the ESB AGM

© Jenny Huang CC BY 2.0

There has been a society devoted to bird conservation in Britain since 1889 - The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland was established even earlier, in 1836 for wild plants. Yet both birds and plants in part rely on earthworms to flourish, both as a food source and through their actions in the soil.

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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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