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Miranda Hodgson

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Frozen worm casts turn soil in to art

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 10 Dec 2010 at 10:30 AM

In the part of the garden nearest the house, there is a sheltered passageway leading from the front gate to the garden itself. This area has stayed relatively unfrozen. I say relatively because it still gets frozen, just not as much as the rest of the garden. Walking along it, I looked down at the soil and saw that the surface was extruded into curious formations. In the rest of the garden the soil is like iron and fairly flat, but here fragile, semi-frozen, twisted fingers of soil reached up from the ground, some of them up to 2.5cm high. Naturally, I took some pictures of them.

 

What were they? The only answer I can think of is that, because the soil in this passage way is sheltered, the worms in the soil border have been active and their casts, rather than bubbling and coiling on the surface, have pushed up into these odd shapes.

 



One of the pleasures of digital photography is being able to zoom into a picture and see the details that wouldn’t be so apparent if you looked at something directly. Enlarging them I saw the individual soil particles, threads of old plant matter, one or two hairs and some of the ice crystals holding the structures in place. Zooming out slightly and the formations took on the forms of brown and lumpy faces or of deformed animals. Earthworm art.

 

 

 

 

Elsewhere in the garden, some of the worms will have gone deep underground, some as far as 180cm (approximately six feet) to their burrows. There, they will cover themselves and the burrow with mucus and then they will curl up, lower their metabolic rate and wait for a thaw. Other worms spend their lives in the upper layers of the soil and these will lay eggs in a cocoon, which will hatch in spring, and then they will die.

There are at least 25 species of earthworm in the UK and the worms that made the above casts are still a bit of a mystery – I wasn’t inclined to disturb them by digging them up to look. One thing the casts do tell me is that the soil is healthy enough to attract and feed the worms, who will quietly turn and aerate it for as long as the ground remains unfrozen.

If you would like to learn more about the UK’s earthworms, the Natural History Museum presents a lot of information and is also carrying out a survey to record the distribution of these remarkable little creatures.

Comments

pushkin said:

The photographs are exciting.  Such an interesting post.  I didn't know that worms dug themselves down so deeply.  Thank you, Miranda!

on 10 Dec 2010 at 03:36 PM

richardpeeej said:

That was an interesting read Miranda, you don't see many worms above ground in this weather do you? they must have more sense than us mere mortals!!

on 10 Dec 2010 at 04:54 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks both! I think any sensible worm is far underground at the moment, except for the chosen few that live in non-frozen soil. Good luck to them!

on 10 Dec 2010 at 05:21 PM

Susiq said:

Good article Miranda - I think the makers of Wallace and Gromit could make use of those unusual soil 'creatures'!

on 11 Dec 2010 at 03:10 PM

EvaInNL said:

Interesting article and great pictures Miranda! There was an art exhibition a while back in London ( I think it was Tate Modern) where the artist had made huge sculptures with a foam that looked much like the wormscapes in your pictures! :) I saw it on the telly, if I remember correctly it was in a series on the importance of modern art. Pretty cool!

on 12 Dec 2010 at 02:09 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Now there's an idea, Susiq! My partner said he could see one of the Simpsons in there.

That's interesting, Eva. See, it IS art! :-)

on 15 Dec 2010 at 11:46 AM

Phot's-Moll said:

Looks like you've got Clangers!

on 15 Dec 2010 at 04:14 PM

Frozen worm casts turn soil in to art | Gardening News said:

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on 22 Dec 2010 at 07:36 PM

Frozen worm casts turn soil in to art | Gardening News said:

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on 22 Dec 2010 at 07:36 PM

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