Discovering Earthworm Middens

One of my missions for this blog is to point out some little known natural wonders.  I have always been fascinated with the unseen world of nature that exists beneath our feet or is too small for our eyes to see. 

Some years back on a forest field trip for my 6th grade science students, the guide pointed out small mounds covered with small bits of debris on the muddy parts of the forest floor.  I’d seen these before, never giving them much thought.  “Those are earth worm middens” she said.  HUH?  How did in all my years of natural science and ecology did I miss this one?

The guide informed us that earthworm middens are the entrances of earthworm burrows.  The reason they are built up like little volcanos is they pile their casings (poo) outside and alternately store bits of organic material at the entrance to later come up and feed upon.  In January I came upon in one in the yard with a magnolia leaf sticking straight up from the entrance like a rock from Stonehenge. It appeared that this leaf was too large, tough for this worm to manage.

Fern leaf being pulled down in a burrow

These slimy long creatures are slow, but quite strong and industrious, working mainly at night in damp conditions. Earthworms are key in our ecosystems, breaking down organic material, nutrients in the soil for plants to feed on.  The plants in turn feed other creatures.

Go out and look for them.  They are easy to see in bare areas.  To see earthworms active, venture outside on a damp or rainy night with a flashlight and you can see their heads popping out of their burrows. Children will especially enjoy this.  Happy hunting!

Here’s a video clip of earworms in action if you don’t like the idea of a night field trip.

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