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What Has Five Hearts, No Eyes, Ears Or Teeth

They have five hearts, no eyes, no ears and no teeth, but one large one of the species can produce four to five kilos (9 to 11 lbs) of valuable fertiliser in just one year. They are hailed as the “intestines of the earth”, and according to my late dear grandmother, Eliza-Jane, the organic matter they produce becomes, “the mother of a healthy nosebag”.

They will wander unto Tarmacadam surfaces in search of leaves and breathing through their skin, you can find up to 1,000,000 of them living invisibly in any one-acre field. Back in 1881 Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution; in a statement wrote: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”   They are “more powerful than the African elephant and more important to the economy than the cow.”

I speak of course of the lowly earth worm, to which the poet William Shakespeare in his play ‘Hamlet’ (Act 4, Scene 3) shows he was well aware of their capable transformative power, “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”

There are some twenty-seven species of earthworm to be found recorded as existing here in Irish soil. They burrow beneath the ground, consuming through their digestive system, micro-organisms, decomposing organic matter such as roots and leaves, sand grains and soil. As a result, vital minerals and nutrients are added to the soil, making it healthier and richer.

In previous generations; long before our more acquired knowledge of agricultural science, the ancients knew well when to plant crops. They understood that when the ground is cold, earth worms bury themselves deeper to avail of warmer soil, thus granting the farmer / gardener information on the temperate of the soil, prior to sowing.

Flatworms

Alas, back about 1963 we saw the first arrival of the New Zealand flatworm, (Arthurdendyus Triangulates) first recorded in Northern Ireland. It took scientists until around 1983, to discovered a possible link between low earthworm populations and the presence of flatworms. Since then, it has been established that flatworms; which inadvertently arrived here through nursery imports of potted plants from abroad, is an aggressive predator of our native earthworm. In recent years same have been widely recorded in the Republic of Ireland, especially in Co. Mayo, and now established, they are beginning to migrate slowly onto adjacent land.

Studies show that when the flatworm locates an earthworm near the earth’s surface, it secretes a digestive juice which in turn will dissolve the earthworm into a kind of gooey soup, which the former then digests. Once the flatworm becomes established, the native Irish earthworm population will be annihilated.

Earthworms are most definitely a gardeners friend and are vital to healthy rich soil, so for this reason always use a garden fork, rather than a spade, when digging to reduce cutting them up when turning over earth.

Finally, tread softly, because you may be treading on your best friend, and when next time ‘the wife’ refers to you as “a miserable little worm”, do feel complimented 😏.

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