This squirmy ‘lowly-creature’ on the surface of the earth may be lacking charm because of its appearance. But do you know that earthworms are more than just fish bait? Their significance to the world is often underrated and most of us have forgotten their vital contribution to the ecosystem that has a direct benefit to humans. Earthworms may be small in nature, but it has a giant purpose to our ecology.
Basic Knowledge: How Do Earthworms Help the soil?
Earthworms are a common sight in gardens, backyards, and parks everywhere moving about through dirt and grass. It’s no wonder why these slimy crawlies are gardener’s best friend. They act as little plow especially around Springtime when plants need better soil to grow. As they move through the soil, earthworms like to feed on organic matter and squeeze itself creating networks of tunnels lined with the undigested waste they leave behind. They break up the soil to allow air and water to get to the plants. This activity is beneficial to the soil ecosystem, as it aerates and adds nutrients to the soil. Better soil means better plants. And better plants mean better food for humans. On the other hand, without air and water, plants would not grow well. That is why sometimes, plants don’t survive if the soil is too dry and compacted.
And how do earthworms create underground tunnels? Think of the kinds of tools that we use to dig into the ground shovels, backhoes, and other tools all have rigid structures that can plunge through the soil. Even our hands take advantage of their bony structure to dig and push dirt around. But earthworms are unique invertebrates that lack a rigid bony skeleton inside their soft bodies. However, they use their muscles in their body filled with fluid with very tiny hair that is almost invisible to our eyes that enables them to dig and navigate through small spaces in the soil.
The dirt is a safe place for earthworms to hide and also serve as their food. They like to stay underground where its dump and moist because, in order for them to breath, they need to keep their skin wet to absorb oxygen. Some gardeners keep earthworms on purpose. They feed them fruit scraps and the earthworm turn them into compost as it passes through its body.
So, how Do Earthworms Help the Soil?
- Improve the physical structure of the soil by creating channels permitting air, nutrients and water to enter the soil.
- Improve water filtration and absorption which help the soil drain better.
- Filter compost existing chemical residues (fertilizers & pesticides). The bacteria inside a worm can help destroy harmful chemicals and breakdown organic wastes.
- Create burrows that allow roots to easily reach down deeper into the soil and obtain nutrients they are unable to reach.
- Increase moisture absorption and the amount of moisture that is available to plants. Castings (or worm excrement) absorb water faster than soil; castings hold more water than equivalent amounts of soil. They can absorb moisture from the air and hold it in a manner that plants can use.
- Improve soil fertility by carrying minerals from the deeper surface that are normally in short supply in surface layers. They are not adding new nutrients, but rather relocating existing nutrients.
- Remove leaf and plant litter from the soil surface. Earthworms ingest the litter and leave the nutrients in their castings for plants to use as a natural fertilizer that good and non-polluting.
- Make plant nutrients more available. Worms concentrate minerals through their casting that can easily be absorbed by plants.
- Provide food for predators. Earthworms, like all creatures, are a part of food chains. Birds are well known predators, but earthworms are also food for endangered and endemic land snails.
- Maintain the fertility of the soil and therefore play a key role in sustainability. Their diverse functionality is useful for the biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Earthworms are Valuable
Next time you found an earthworm in your garden, don’t squash them or just use them as fish bait. Now that we know how do earthworms help the soil, encourage worms to just be there in your garden. Maybe you can build a better habitat for them using a container filled with damp soil and leaves. They will come and grow there naturally, in return improving your soil structure and making it easier to grow plants.
We should protect and respect any living creature on this earth no matter how small they are, especially Earthworm which is an important part of the ecosystem. As scientist, Charles Darwin recognized the role of earthworms to our environment once said,
“The plow is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed, the land was in fact regularly plowed and still continues to be thus plowed by earthworms. 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.” Get more tips on earthworms.