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Why earthworms? Charles Darwin, after making a careful study of our squirmy pals, reached this conclusion:
"It may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures."
Indeed, your typical earthworm serves as an ecosystem engineer of sorts. As they tunnel through the soil, these passageways air and water to circulate to soil microorganisms and plant roots. As the gang at BackyardNature.net explain: "Each year on an acre of average cultivated land, 16,000 pounds of soil pass through earthworm guts and are deposited atop the soil." Darwin calculated that if all the worm droppings (rich in nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus) resulting from ten years of worm work on one acre of soil were spread over that acre, it would be two inches thick.
Plus: How could you not love a creature with five hearts?
"A worm is as good a traveler as a grasshopper or a cricket, and a much wiser settler. With all their activity, these do not hop away from drought nor forward to summer. We do not avoid evil by fleeing before it, but by rising above or diving below its plane; as the worm escapes drought and frost by boring a few inches deeper."
Earthworm Love: Yet Another Reason to Lower Our Carbon Footprint
By now, you're probably beginning to grasp how important earthworms are to us and the planet. But, like so many other species, these ecosystem engineers are starting to pay a price for our carbon addiction. In England, for example, a British species of earthworm is being forced out by a species common in southern Europe which is better adapted to hotter, drier conditions. "We've seen the first signs of climate change affecting different species of worms," said Emma Sherlock, a curator of invertebrates at the Natural History Museum in London. "Two species which are pretty similar have been affected. One ... is prevalent in the UK and the other ... is prevalent in mainland Europe but pretty rare in Britain. It was found that the UK worm has been going down in numbers and the one from Europe has been going up. The UK species has cocoons that are more resistant to frost whereas the European species is better able to stand dessication—and with climate change dessication is more of an issue so the balance between the two species is changing."