Margot (midnight_birth) wrote in margot_quotes,

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart.


Title: The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms.
Author: Amy Stewart.
Genre: Non-fiction, science, biology, zoology, ecology, Oligochaetology.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2004.
Summary: The book takes the reader on a subterranean adventure to seek out the planet's most important gatekeeper: the humble earthworm. Though deaf, spineless, and blind, this small creature has profound effects ecosystem, destroying plant diseases, plowing the earth, transforming forests. They've survived two mass extinctions, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. With Charles Darwin, who devoted the last years of his life to the meticulous study of them, as her inspiration, Stewart investigates the earthworm's astonishing realm. She unearths the complex web of life beneath our feet, observing the thousands of worms in her own garden and composting bins and examining the role earthworms play in cutting-edge science - from toxic cleanups, to preserving and burying ruins, to the study of regeneration.

My rating: 8.5/10.
My review: I forced myself to pick up this book for one simple reason - somewhere between my childhood (working the land during the summer, collecting centipedes off the cabbage leaves, tubeworms out of the potato sacks, and earthworms for the fishermen) and my teenagehood (immigrating and moving to the city full-time), I had developed an inexplicable but extremely strong revulsion to worms of every variety. Even looking at an earthworm would turn my stomach. I figured that facing a fear and educating myself about it would likely lessen or correct whatever illogical turn my mind may have taken in regard to these creatures, and I was absolutely right. By the end of the book I was the earthworm's biggest fan - I had found out that they were fascinating, mysterious, invaluable, and just straight out cool. I was very thankful that I happened across this book before I found out the last book Darwin had written was on worms, too. If I had known that, I would have felt compelled to read that instead of this book, because even though this book draws heavily on Darwin's work, and is extensively backed-up and researched, when it comes to scientific subjects, I have found reading books by fans or enthusiasts with no scientific background can lead to misinformation and just bad books. This was a delightful exception. Whereas Darwin's writing is dry and technical, Stewart writes with passion and humour, and it's great to follow her as she follows her questions and discover the fascinating answers with her, sharing in both her wonder and delight. I enjoyed that while showing all of her research and referring to experts in the field, she also constantly conducts experiments of her own, starting an enormous worm win, to which she becomes very attached throughout her research. In the end, as a person who went into this book unable to even think of worms without nausea, and coming out in great awe, fascination, and respect for them, I would dare anyone to read this book and not become great fans and budding oligochaetologists themselves (Darwin studied them for 40 years, with almost childish delight).

♥ There is a diagram of an apple tree pinned to the wall above my desk - an entire apple tree, meaning that the drawing shows its roots as well as its trunk and branches. The tree itself is only five or six feet tall, but the roots extend an astonishing twelve feet into the soil and spread much wider than the outer boundary of the tree's canopy. What's fascinating about the drawing is this: the part of the plant that we think of as the apple tree is, in fact, a fairly insignificant part of the full plant. It's just a squat, knobby protrusion at the top of a graceful, expansive system of roots.

...I keep this picture of the apple tree because it reminds me of something else: a plant's real beauty, its true purpose, might not lie aboveground in the tiny dominion of my garden. There is more to an apple tree than what we can see, much more. To know the land for what it is, to find its heartbeat, to expose its soul, you have to go underground where it lives and breathes.

♥ [Darwin] could hardly restrain himself before laying out his central thesis: his remarkable conviction that "all the vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many times through, and will again pass many times through, the intestinal canals of worms." It is a stupendous achievement for a blind and deaf creature with no spine, no teeth, and a length of only two or three inches.

♥ Now we know that Darwin had only glimpsed the potential power of worms: his conclusion that over fifty thousand worms could inhabit an acre of soil was in fact quite low. Scientists have shown that figure to be one million. Earthworms in the Nile valley can deposit up to a thousand tons of castings per acre, helping to explain the astonishing fertility of Egypt's agricultural land. As Darwin had only just begun to suspect, earthworms pass the top few inches of soil through their guts every year. This makes them beings to be reckoned with, a force for change in more ways than even he could have guessed.

♥ If a person were to pull leaves or twigs into a hole, Darwin reasoned, they would grab the object by its narrowest end and pull it in. If the object was long and skinny like the hole itself - say, a twig or stem - they would probably pull the thickest, heaviest end in first. Surely instinct alone could not account for the manner in which a worm selected material for its burrow. Intelligence, he declared, had to be the guiding factor. When the worms reached for fallen leaves and twigs around their burrows, they were selecting the best material available. They evaluated, they experimented, they made decisions.

Let me say that again: they made decisions - actual decisions, made after trying several alternatives and choosing the one that seemed best for the situation. This is perhaps the most surprising revelation in Darwin's book. Although earthworms had undoubtedly been making such decisions for centuries, they had a new and unlikely advocate in Charles Darwin. He had the time, the resources, and the scientific methodology to prove that what earthworms did was more than mere chance.

♥ This doesn't sound like much, but even Darwin's conservative estimates showed that over the course of a year, a healthy earthworm population can move almost twenty tons of soil per acre.

♥ Darwin was meticulous with his research. Since this was to be his last book, he seemed determined to get it right, to document every element of earthworm life. He pulled not a few leaves out of burrows; he pulled 227 out and reported that 181 of them, or eighty percent, had been drawn in by their tips. The others had been drawn in by their bases or seized in the middle, causing the leaf to crumple once inside the burrow. The image of the elderly scientist pulling 227 leaves out of burrows and cataloging them to prove the intelligence of earthworms in his backyard is amusing, even surprising, but he didn't stop there; he went on to reconstruct pine needles by breaking them apart and rejoining them at the base using glue or thread. He aimed to prove that worms knew to drag them into their burrows by the base where the needles were joined, rather than by one end, which would surely result in the needle getting stuck midway. He wanted to demonstrate that they were not acting out of instinct, because of a pine needle's particular taste or feel. He created 271 of these artificial sets of pine needles and observed that eighty-five percent of them were drawn in by their bases, noting that worms were slightly more likely to draw pine needles in by the base if they were attached with thread as opposed to being attached with glue, which might have smelled or tasted unpleasant to the worms. He wondered if the worms naturally avoided the sharp points of pine needle ends and chose the base because it was rounder. To test this, he carefully trimmed off the sharp ends and found that worms drew them in by their base regardless.

As for the paper triangle experiment, he did not simply cut a few triangles and leave them lying around. He cut 303 triangles of various sizes, coated them with fat to keep them from going limp in the night dew, and established some baseline data by drawing triangles into small tubes using tweezers to determine the most efficient method that he would employ if he, rather than the worms, were given this task. (He chose the apex, as opposed to the middle of the base.) Even working with this unfamiliar material, they drew the paper triangles in by their apex sixty-two percent of the time. He went on to observe that the triangles pulled by their apexes had been drawn in cleanly, with very little evidence of fumbling around or trial-and-error first. "We may therefore infer-" he writes, "improbable as is the inference - that worms are able by some means to judge which is the best end by which to draw triangles of paper into their burrows."

♥ Try pressing your finger into compacted clay earth and see how far you get. Some of the dirt in my own garden is so hard that I can barely make a dent with one finger, and even a shovel has trouble penetrating except on very damp mornings. Now imagine a worm, that limp and spineless creature, working through the same soil. First it anchors its setae into the soil to brace itself, then it stiffens the muscles that run in segments around its body. It increases the pressure inside its coelomic cavity, a vessel that holds the mucus it excretes during locomotion, reproduction, or a time of stress. The increased pressure in this cavity propels the head of the worm forward. It eats a little soil as it moves. The tail contracts, pulling it in the direction its head was moving, and the process begins again. It can take a worm weeks to build a system of burrows in a laboratory study, where the soil may not be as compacted as those unyielding, undisturbed areas in my backyard. Although it is difficult to clock a worm's speed in the wild, we do know that nightcrawlers only migrate a few yards per year. Lumbricus terrestris does not race through the soil; it meanders, sticking close to food sources and always seeking damp, cool ground.

♥ Deep-burrowing worms, then, inhabit a world that would seem stark and barren to us. For their size, they are surprisingly delicate. One such worm, Megascolides australis, can grow to several feet in length but its skin is so fragile that it could burst if it is handled too much. Its tunnels are so large and well lined with coelomic fluid that some Australian farmers can hear a gurgling sound coming from deep within the earth when the worm is on the move. Another giant worm in Oregon, Driloleirus macelfreshi, measures two or three feet long and is known for its coelomic fluid, which smells distinctly of lilies.

♥ Picture, once more, that drawing of the apple tree with its roots extending twelve feet into the soil. How many earthworms are at work in the roots of that tree? Dozens? Hundreds? An apple tree can live for decades. What difference could a population of earthworms mean to its health and longevity? I am starting to believe that it could make all the difference in the world. In an age of ecological uncertainty, when natural habitats are disappearing and creatures like the giant Oregon earthworm are becoming extinct before they have even been properly identified, when farmland is being paved over in favor of neighborhoods and shopping centers, and farmers are turning to genetic engineering and biological pesticides to solve their agricultural problems, in this complex age, the earthworm may emerge as a kind of unsung hero, one whose potential we are only just beginning to understand.

♥ Still, he faces an uphill battle in his quest to rally the public around the cause of earthworm science and preservation. "I do radio, television, public lectures. People ask me, why bother cataloging earthworms? Well, why catalog anything? It's how we learn about the world we live in. Besides, some of these worms are going extinct. How do you know what you're losing if you don't know what you have?"

♥ It must be both a joy and a frustration to work on the frontiers of science. Sam James, like most of the oligochaetologists I met, is a passionate advocate for the subjects he studies, genuinely unable to understand why everyone isn't as fascinated as he is with earthworms. It is reasonable for such a person to look at the any societies established for the study and appreciation of birds or butterflies or at the laws in place to protect dolphins and starfish, and the lengths to which people will go to attract ladybugs or honeybees to their gardens, and wonder why no comparable efforts have been made on behalf of earthworms. Are we so hierarchical that we can't respect a creature that lives beneath our feet? Are we so focused on image, on appearance, that we can only love the prettiest inhabitants of the garden - a swallowtail butterfly, a fat bumblebee - and neglect the slimy but hardworking earthworm? Perhaps it is because we associate them with death and decay, while bees bring to mind sunflowers and sweet honey and the mild sexual buzz of a flower bed being pollinated.

Still, earthworm scientists work on, alone, undeterred by the lack of popular support. Their discoveries - the unusual and extraordinary worms they collect - might someday be stored at the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History, but they may not be exhibited for years. You can get a map that shows the distribution of red fire ants across the southern United States, one that shows where redwood forests used to grow world-wide and where they remain today, even a map showing the location of the endangered Oahu tree snail. But you can't get a reliable map of the distribution of earthworm species worldwide, precisely because worms live underground and must be dug up, one at a time, in order to be identified and counted. Once they've been discovered, it could be months or years before a researcher has time to properly name and catalog the species.

I once asked Sam if he knew anything about earthworms in the Amazon basin. He said he could think of a few, including some giant worms over two feet long. When I asked him for a Latin name, he said, "I don't know. I haven't named them yet." If he doesn't name them, I wondered, who will?

♥ In some ways, Darwin thought of worms as historians, covering the remains of one civilization and preparing the earth for the next. But earthworms can hardly be considered sneaky in their concealment; in fact, anyone who has ever watched a worm knows that it goes about its work in the most matter-of-fact manner. It is only carrying out the natural order of things, folding the ruins of a city, a farm, or a society into the lower strata of the earth. When our civilizations end, and when we as individuals die, we don't ascend, not physically - we descend. And the earth rises up to meet us.

I read about Darwin's visit to Stonehenge, where he saw first-hand that earthworms were drawing those ancient rocks down their underground world, and I shared in his sense of wonder over the continual job or burial that they performed. Earthworms toil incessantly to carry us down to the depths of the earth with them, and ultimately, our efforts to resist are futile. Darwin must have taken some comfort in this; he never feared death, and he appreciated the natural order that this arrangement with earthworms suggested. In a way, looking down at those buried Roman ruins must have been like getting a glimpse of the afterlife.

♥ Eternity can be found in the minuscule, in the place where earthworms, along with billions of unseen soil-dwelling microorganisms, engage on a complex and little-understood dance with the tangle of plant roots that make up their gardens, their cities.

♥ This is the earthworm's powerful secret, one that even Darwin didn't fully grasp: the earthworm, far from being one of the smallest and weakest creatures, is actually one of the largest beings in its world, its underground society. In that place, it is an elephant, a whale - a giant.

♥ As for how and why they might die of old age, he didn't know, and I can only assume that if he doesn't know, no one knows. There are no features that allow a person to tell a worm's age, he explained. As long as it is an adult, a young worm looks the same as an old worm. Perhaps it makes sense that a creature that doesn't get ill and has few enemies among its neighbors would also live agelessly and die without explanation or cause - would simply vanish without a trace.

♥ We know now that earthworms do more than plough the earth. They are at times the movers, incubators, or destroyers of the invisible denizens of the soil. But the study of earthworms is still in its infancy where soil microorganisms are concerned. It is far too early in the game for a scientist to recommend a particular earthworm as a biological solution to a farmer's problem. Still, it is becoming clear that earthworms are, as one researcher put it, "a keystone species." When an earthworm is introduced into a forest, a farm, or a backyard garden, it can bring about profound changes at the microscopic level, changes that can transform plant life aboveground.

♥ The act can take a few hours to complete and during that time the worms are oblivious to their surroundings. Even Darwin took note of this, writing, "Their sexual passion is strong enough to overcome for a time their dread of light." He took this as a sign of their intelligence. The simple fact that they could be so focused on one activity that they would not notice anything else led him to conclude that they must have a mind of some kind. If they were merely beings that reacted to stimuli by instinct, he reasoned, they would dodge the light no matter what else they were doing.

♥ This is one of the marvels of an earthworm's life cycle: its ability to grown new body parts, to spontaneously heal from injury. How is it, I wonder, that this creature was endowed with such an ability? I look at the scars left on my own hands after years of meeting up with brambles and sharp pruning shears in the garden. I think about my great-grandmother's hand, which lacked half a digit after an accident with an old cast-iron laundry mangle. Why is it that a worm can regrow most of its body, but we can't replace so much as a finger? I am left with the troubling conclusion that the worm's survival may, in the grand scheme of things, be more important than my own.

♥ There is almost no part of the United States where European earthworms have not made a home for themselves. Over the last few decades, earthworm censuses have found over a million worms per acre in Geneva, New York; Frederick, Maryland; and LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

♥ A redwood forest is powerfully alive. When I visit one, I put my hands on the largest tree I can find, and I almost believe I can feel a heartbeat.

♥ One could speculate that exotic earthworms displace native earthworms by consuming their food source or pushing them out of their habitat. A native earthworm may have a symbiotic relationship with a particular native plant, or it may be a food source to a specific bird or snake. It may help maintain a particular balance of nutrients in the spoil, one that forest plants rely upon. I that earthworm disappears, is is possible that the forest itself could change?

♥ He starts laughing, the ironic laugh of someone who has seen earthworms get the better of two thousand years of rice farming in one country while transforming the soil and making productive farming possible in others. Sam James is perhaps one of the few people who get the joke: earthworms can change the course of human civilization and do it all silently, in the dark, unseen.

♥ Then she said something that no earthworm scientist had said to me. "They can be so beneficial, or so destructive," she said. "They are literally ecosystem engineers. They are at the very base of the ecosystem. Their actions drive everything else that happens. And yet there are a lot of ecologists out there who pay no attention to earthworms at all."

♥ When I stand at the edge of a forest, at the base of a mountain, or in my own backyard, looking down at the soil, I feel the way I do when I look out at the ocean, where great blue whales and giant squid swim the unknown depths, where sharks hunt and sea cucumbers wave with the currents. Any sea creature, at any time, can break the surface of the ocean, can rise up from the hidden underwater world and fix one dark eye upon you, then dive down again. The ground has its own kind of fluidity, its own hidden world, its own mysterious inhabitants. What creature, I wonder, would rise up from the surface of the earth if I stood here long enough and watched? How much of the underground world of the giant earthworm is still unexplored and unknown?

♥ If we're so removed from the plants and animals that eventually end up on the grocer's shelf, we are even further removed from the soil where that food has once lived. When I buy an onion at the grocery store, I have no idea about the texture, the color, the composition of the soil where it grew. I don't know what kind of bacteria or fungi fed the bulb as it matured. And I haven't a clue about the earthworm population that might have lived among its roots.

Why does it matter? Because fruit or vegetable—an orange, a head of broccoli, a carrot—is a product of its environment. It derives its vitamins and minerals from the sun, the rain, and the soil. We expect an orange to provide about seventy milligrams of vitamin C, but does every orange contain that amount? In fact, the vitamin and mineral content of produce can vary widely, and vegetables grown in soil that has been amended with composted manure may provide more nutrition than those fed synthetic chemicals. In one study, conventionally grown beans had only one-tenth the iron of organic beans, and conventional spinach had half the calcium of organic spinach. I don't know of any study that has linked the calcium level in spinach to the number of earthworms in the soil, but I can only guess that those organically grown vegetables had more earthworms toiling at their roots.

This, then, is what is still remarkable to me about growing my own vegetables: I feed the worms in the form of kitchen scraps going into my worm bin, and in the form of manure and dead leaves that I spread around the garden as mulch. And in return, the worms feed me.

♥ Pastures that were thoroughly populated by European worms grew twenty times more ryegrass and produced more grass for livestock to graze than those that had been left untouched. Thanks to the worms, his flock of breeding ewes doubled in number and he clipped another four thousand pounds of wool in winter. The worms fed the grass, the grass fed the ewes, and the ewes fed the farmer, who in turn fed the worms. It was an extraordinary successful experiment for everyone involved.

♥ The case for returning to organic farming goes something like this: farmers have, over these last several decades, taken the multivitamin-and-antibiotic approach to agriculture. When people take a multivitamin instead of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, they lose out on the nutritional value offered by the whole food. The fiber and juice in an orange, the beneficial oils in a walnut, the micronutrients in a spinach leaf are simply not readily available in pill form. In our fast-food society, a multi-vitamin is a poor substitute for a healthy diet. The same is true of chemical fertilizers in agriculture. In fact, there is a saying among organic gardeners: chemical fertilizers may feed the plant, but organic fertilizers feed the soil. More specifically, when farmers add amendments like manure, kelp, alfalfa meal, and vermicompost, what they are really doing is providing a food source for bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in the soil. Those microscopic creatures, in turn, feed the plants.

♥ Resistance to chemicals develops quickly, and farmers look to a new wave of chemical treatments for help. Meanwhile, they've killed off some of the living organisms in their soil and beneficial insects in their fields. ... This growing dependence on chemicals concerns some farmers, who worry about their increasing costs. It does not sit well with many farmers that their newly sprayed fields are toxic to their children. Add in concerns that many agricultural chemicals are petroleum-based and draw on a limited supply of fossil fuels, and the case against conventional agriculture seems pretty persuasive.

♥ There's a method of agriculture called "no-till," in which a hole is drilled into the soil just large enough for the seedling or the seed to be dropped in. This method leaves the soil structure intact. It encourages earthworms. Time and again, earthworm scientists have proven how well no-till works to increase worm populations. It's a pretty simple science: they go out to fields and pastures and count worms. On land that has not been tilled, they find more worms and better soil structure every time. Combine no-till practices with consistent use of cover crops, and studies have shown that yields increase by up to sixty percent.

♥ I once heard a farmer say this: "The problem with the way we farm now is that we treat our soil like dirt." Indeed, the soil—and the earthworm that lives in it—is itself a crop, one that can be cultivated in the same way that a radish or a tulip is cultivated: by paying careful attention to its particular needs and habits. More and more, I was starting to believe that earthworms may, in fact, be the most important crop I grow.

♥ Most worm scientists describe worm populations in terms of worms per acre. Darwin estimated that there were fifty-three thousand worms per acre, and population studies performed in the twentieth century have shown that earthworm populations can range from as few as twenty thousand worms per acre in Rumania, to six hundred and seventy thousand in tropical rainforests in Malaysia, to an astonishing eight million worms per acre in a New Zealand pasture. And the experience of farmers and ranchers in New Zealand shows that where earthworms are abundant, crop yields increase.

♥ Surely a crate of potatoes stored away for winter, a rich sweet orange, or an armload of deeply perfumed roses are among the great comforts of the human race. The earthworm plays some role in making all those comforts available to us. It is easy, I have found, to get a little sentimental when it comes to their contributions. Even a scientist can become consumed with a sense of wonder over the power of the lowly worm.

♥ They were built only for eating, and they carried out their task flawlessly. They seemed to suffer no illness and rarely faced any obstacle that could keep them from their work. This may explain why Darwin heaped so much praise upon them. In choosing the earthworm for the subject of his final book, he revealed something about the moral universe in which he lived. Phillips wrote, "It was to be part of Darwin's undogmatic shifting of the hierarchies to see earthworms—typically associated with death and corruption and lowliness—as maintaining the earth, sustaining its fertility. The poor, he would imply, had already inherited the earth. . . ." Through his exploration of this overlooked creature, Phillips points out, Darwin wrote his own version of The Making of the English Working Class. The great scientist discovered more about earthworms than merely their habits and habitats; he revealed their noblest qualities.

Noble? A worm? I've watched earthworms squirm around in my garbage for years. I suppose I can understand why people associate them with filth; after all, they are so often found writhing beneath the muck and trash. Anything that's rotten will attract them, but they are not rotten themselves. Anything dead will have a worm writhing through it eventually, but worms are powerfully alive. I have come to understand, like Darwin had, that earthworms are not destroyers, but redeemers. They move through waste and decay in their contemplative way, sifting, turning it into something else, something that is better.

♥ There are just under one billion acres of farmland in the United States. What if all that livestock manure—five hundred million tons per year of it—could be digested by worms and applied to nearby corn, wheat, or soybean fields? Sure, that only works out to a half-ton of castings per acre per year, which falls short of the two to four tons per acre that Edwards is considering in his research. But what if composted food and paper waste were added to the mix? Is it too idealistic to imagine that worms could take care of all kinds of agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste and turn it into a fertilizer that farmers could use in place of chemicals?

Eosenia fetida is the perfect worm for domestication. It thrives in waste. A pile of garbage is its home. The fact that we can also use it to bait a hook or feed a chicken makes it all the more suited for life alongside humans. In fact, unlike the domestication of cats and dogs, the domestication of the red wiggler requires no changes on the part of the worm. It is already fully equipped to do the job we're asking to do, which seems like like an extraordinary coincidence. Perhaps Eisenia fetida, by following the spread of humans around the globe over the last few million years, and moving into our paddocks and our garbage dumps, has already adapted itself to us. Maybe it has been domesticated all along, and it has just been waiting for us to notice.

♥ Earthworms are the custodians of the planet. They were here for millions of years before we came along. They survived the extinction that killed off the dinosaurs; I imagine they'd do just fine if something came along and wiped us out, too. Eisenia fetida may have grown particularly accustomed to food supplied by humans, but most of the species of worms around the world have little contact with us.

Darwin realized that earthworms, collectively, were a force to be reckoned with. Whether or not it is ethical or wise for us to enlist their help in fertilizing our farms, or cleaning up our pollution and garbage, we should remember one thing: we need worms more than they need us.

♥ When it comes right down to it, my worms aren't heroic or extraordinary in any way. They won't solve the world's pollution problems or treat sewage (apart from the chicken manure) or eat anyone's garbage other than my own. They'll just stay here in this patch of earth, along with me, and try to make the best of the environment they live in. Generations of worms will live on in the soil, long after I'm gone, long after this old house has fallen down. But they will renew the earth. What could be more extraordinary than that?

♥ If Darwin had any notion of heaven, he surely believed that it was all around him. Adam Phillips in Darwin's Worms suggested a kind of immortality, a kind of redemption, and a certain sly delight in the notion that worms created the earth. Phillips wrote that earthworms "preserve the past, and create the conditions for future growth. No deity is required for these reassuring continuities. . . . Darwin has replaced a creation myth with a secular maintenance myth. This is how the earth maintains itself, as fertile and ongoing." Perhaps Darwin realized that the promise of eternal life, of resurrection, had been delivered. It was already happening, right beneath his feet.

♥ After spending sever years as a keeper of worms, and a solid year or two engaged in a study of their habits and history, I will say that there is not a finer pet anywhere. I've had dogs that would not walk on a leash and birds that refused to sing, and at present I've got two cats who nap when they should be chasing mice and chase each other around the bedroom at night when I'm at risk of nodding off to sleep myself.

But a herd of worms will earn its keep, no doubt about it. They'll take care of the garbage, fertilize the lawn, and bait your fishhook if you like to fish. They'll provide the kids with science-fair projects and show-and-tell offerings for years to come. And they'll do it all with a minimum of fuss and expense.

♥ They are clean, quiet, well-behaved creatures, interesting to watch, and even beautiful in the way that any organism can be if you know just how to look at it. Put a worm in your hand and watch it expand each segment in turn, arch its back, flex its muscles. You will be won over. Lift up the top layer of food and newspaper in your bin and you will surely be awestruck at the spectacle of such industry taking place just outside your back door: thousands of worms churning through your apple cores and coffee grounds, your newspaper and dryer lint, taking it all in and turning it back into earth.
Tags: 1st-person narrative non-fiction, 2000s, 21st century - non-fiction, agriculture, american - non-fiction, biology, ecology, nature, non-fiction, oligochaetology, science, zoology

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