Sunday, March 27, 2011

Worms are hermaphrodites and other sexy things

I just got in from a great gardening session. I love my newly landscaped front yard. It's kind of overwhelming how in love I am with it. It's colorful, it feeds bees, I can eat it, it's playful.... Honestly, I can't keep my hands off it. I'm completely smitten. I leaned over and took a nibble of a violet petal. It was as good as it sounds. Better even. Velvet violet petal. sweet.

But what inspired me to write was not swooning over violet petals but rather my love of worms. Every thing I moved that had been sitting still for the last week had loads of worms underneath. Most were red wigglers but there were a few meatier gray worms too. I scooped them all up and added them under the mulch in the front beds. I am a big fan of worms but they get kind of a bad rap in our culture. There are many misconceptions about worms that I feel compelled to clarify.
1) Worms are gross.
Get over it. STFU. Don't be inane. Worms build soil so you (and geological time) don't have to. They work their little tails off and ask for nothing except your kitchen scraps and a little cover from the sun. I'm happy to feed them my "trash"! Makes me feel great that less trash heads to the landfill. Makes them happy to fill their bellies with slime and poop out crumbly rich humic acid soil. They are soil building factories. Even the slime that coats them (their own personal lubricant so they can navigate the underground world without damaging tender tissues - cause nothing that soft likes a lot of friction!) is worthy of accolades. It helps hold soil together. They are awesome. and sexy (more on that later).
2) Worms can be cut in half and regenerate their missing half.
Please review your 7th grade taxonomy lessons! Worms are annelids. Annelids don't regenerate. (any taxonomists out there to set me straight if I'm wrong? Cool. Figured as much.) There are lots of other things called worms that can do that. Earthworms can't! All you will potentially get is one shorter worm and one piece of decomposing worm tail. Yuck. Leave them alone.
3) Worms are dirty.
Really they aren't. If you, with all your messy hairs, lived in soil you'd be a mess. Worms are pink or gray or whatever color they are. You are the one that gets dirty when you go after them. and they don't carry any diseases and they certainly can't hurt you.

4) Worms aren't interesting.
That's silly. Let me tell you how they make more worms. First off, worm anatomy is pretty cool. When they become teenagers (60-90 days) they grow a clittelum. Already it's starting to sound sexy. The clittelum is a swelling towards the anterior (head) end of the worm that makes a ring around it's body. This swelling contains sex organs. I say "it" because worms have genitalia of both males and females. There are some juicy tidbits on reproduction in the wikipedia article on Earthworms. Essentially they glide their clittelums together and exchange sperm with each other. They embrace in this way for quite a while if I remember correctly. Reproduction happens later when the worm is by itself. It makes a cocoon around itself and then slides out of the cocoon leaving its own eggs and former partners sperm. It sounds very "modern relationship saga" but is just what makes evolutionary sense for these critters.
I just like getting to say clittelum a whole bunch.

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