COUNTING WORMS

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Mon, 09/17/2007 - 14:05.

Cindy Hale visited the Shaker Lakes Regional Nature Center on September 13, 2007 to lead a small hands-on seminar on worm census techniques.  Cindy hails from Duluth, Minnesota and is the author of  Earthworms of the Great Lakes

 

Here’s a few quick notes on what I learned.

 

1.                  Mixing about a quarter cup of dry ground mustard seed flour in a gallon of water provides an ideal solution to pour onto the ground area you are censusing in order to encourage the worms to crawl to the surface.  You can see a foil bag of “Frontier” brand dried mustard seed flour at the upper right hand of the photo. 

2.                  The area of the square metal frame on the ground in the photo is 1/9 of a square meter, so the census is multiplied by 9 to extrapolate per sq/m of land area.

3.                  All North American earthworms are invasive, and there are about 7 prevalent/ common types. 

4.                  Night crawlers burrow down into clay soils several meters.  I asked Cindy how the worms dig through the soil – do they have teeth? – Cindy did not know - I don't either.  However I can tell you that the excavation skills of worms are very impressive.

5.                  Cindy suggested that one good reason to study and count worms in environmental education programs (as the Nature Center sponsors) is that kids can be “hooked” on having broader environmental interests aroused when they see that even the dirt is alive with creatures.

6.                  Earthworms can eat all the duff off of the forest floor.  The bare soil is then vulnerable to erosion.  At the same time, however,  earthworms contribute to soil aeration and percolation – helping to suppress storm run off.

7.                  Worms eat sticks and acorn hulls once the leaves are gone

8.                  You can find areas with worm middens spread out 6” apart in all directions in colonies that reminded me of prairie dog colonies.

 

It was encouraging to find several people from the Metro Parks staff at the seminar.  Cindy spoke at the Cleveland Botanical Garden before heading back to Duluth.  I mentioned my Lawn Thermograph post and will forward the link to her. 

 

This fall, instead of raking autumn  leaves to a pile near the street where city vehicles will consume fuel to collect them and then concentrate them in a composting operation, why not rake the leaves into the bushes where the worms will eat them all by next spring? 

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