4 Reasons To Love Earthworms
Charles Darwin studied them for 39 years concluding that no living thing has had such a profound impact on history as they have. Aristotle called them the ‘intestines of the soil’. National Geographic awarded them the most influential species of all evolution in 2009.
For such lofty accolades, the lowly earthworm slips under the radar. They don’t win any cute awards and even have a phobia inspired by them – scoleciphobia. Where they shine, is in the significant contributions they make to our food web – specifically soil health.
1) They’re the ultimate recyclers
Earthworms (along with bacteria and fungi) are black belts at dealing with dead organic material. They are nature’s ultimate recyclers, breaking apart dead organisms and plant matter and depositing the useful by-products back into the soil. Without this activity, our fields would resemble a war zone littered with rotting carnage. Imagine the repercussions: from water blockages and surface flooding to inanimate, lifeless, soil devoid of nutrients for our food.
2) They feed us nutrients
Once they’ve broken down organic matter by ingesting it, they poop it all back into the soil as castings. These castings are filled with nutrients that have been extracted from the organic matter that they’ve fed on and, playing their vital role, our wriggly little recycling buddies feed it back into the soil for plant roots to absorb. Goodies like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (which all act as natural fertilisers) and calcium (needed for plant growth) are literally returned to mother nature. It’s a glorious unseen ‘thank you’ moment that says, everything you gave us we return to you.
3) They protect our land
Earthworms are expert tunnellers. You would think that making holes in the soil is terrible for the ground beneath our feet but it’s quite the opposite. By creating channels and forever burrowing about, loosening and aerating the soil, they improve its ability to drain water. Good drainage means less run-off, less water loss and less flooding. Soils rich in earthworms drain up to 10 times faster than those without and in zero-till soils, they increase water holding capacity by up to 6 times more than in cultivated soils. Their tunnels also live on long after they’re gone becoming passageways for plant roots to grow and penetrate deeper into the soil for extra moisture and nutrients.
4) They support soil structure
As if their efforts deep in the soil aren’t impressive enough, earthworms also reinforce conditions on the surface so their hard work below isn’t wasted. Earthworm poop (or castings), are deposited on the surface of the soil as they pull material into their burrows. These castings do the double duty of protecting nutrients from being washed away by watering or rain and also rebuilding top soil by up to 5 mm annually in favourable conditions. 15 cm of new soil in ten or twenty years is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s easy to see why National Geographic ranked the earthworm as the most influential species of all evolution. They are nature’s soil scientist, ensuring that we have the optimal conditions to grow our food in. Why use fossil-fuel based herbicides, pesticides and nasty chemicals that kill off soil life when a ‘regenerative’ process can take place naturally?