Earthworm day 2019 NO SMALL MATTER!

15 February 2019

Earthworm day 2019 NO SMALL MATTER!

by Elelwani Makhuva


Today is Earthworm day! You may be wondering what on earth is Earthworm day and why should you care?

To me earthworm day is about acknowledging the important role that these small organisms play in our lives, a day to remind ourselves and those around us that there are other organisms below the surface that need our attention as well.

For starters earthworms do so much for us that we hardly take note of and secondly, you probably don’t want to argue with Darwin. “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures’’ Charles Darwin wrote this statement referring to the earthworm in his book, The formation of vegetable mould through the Action of Worms with Observations in their Habits.

What do earthworms do for us?

Earthworms transport minerals and nutrients to the surface, the presence of these organisms is a good indicator of soil health. “A healthy earthworm population can create a 2.5 to 5 cm of fertile topsoil every five years’’, which is a big deal considering the size of these organisms. On a bigger scale they in-turn impact food security, biodiversity and the sustainable management of forests. Earthworms regulate climate by acting as carbon storage when they consume dead plants and animal fragments. They are a food source to other organisms like birds and small mammals. Earthworms aerate the ground and drain the soil, reducing soil erosion and stabilising soil structure. Research has found that soil with earthworms drains as much as 10 times faster than soil without. They are useful as fishing baits. As we know humans depend highly on functional soil for planting food, animal grazing and the list goes on.

Interesting facts about the earthworm:

There are about 2700 different kinds of earthworms in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica. Some having notable abilities, such as Avelona ligra, the bioluminescent worm and the widely coloured Archipheretima spp.

The largest earthworm recorded was 22 feet long, which was found here in South Africa. Earthworms can live up to six years in the wild. The earthworm is hermaphroditic, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs, with that said they do not self-fertilize. Earthworms mate by joining their clitella and exchange sperm and form an egg capsule in the clitellum. They hatch from a cocoon smaller than a grain of rice.

The body of an earthworm is made of up of segments, the amazing thing about the segments is that they are replaceable once lost. The mouth of an earthworm is located on the very first segment. These small sightless organisms can eat up to one third of their body weight. They use setae covering annuli to carry out movement and borrowing. Earthworms prefer conditions which are not too cold or too cold.

What we can do for them?

  • We can learn and educate ourselves more about the diversity and activities of earthworms in the soil in-order to protect them.
  • Reduce human activities such as moving topsoil and adding of fertilises that disturbs their habitat.
  • Create micro-habitats to encourage earthworm population.
  • Spreading organic matter that has benefits to earthworms over flower/vegetable beds.

The benefits that earthworms provide to our environment is NO SMALL MATTER!