|MadSci Network: Zoology|
Thanks for writing to us - sorry it took us so long to get back to you!
Depends on the worm, actually. If you are talking regualr garden-variety generic earthworms, all they need is lots of rich dirt and periodic moisture. If you have a garden outside your house with soil that is rich enough for healthy flowers to grow in (i.e., it's got lots of nutrients in it; it's fertilized periodically etc.), that should be good enough. If you want to put a bunch of earthworms in it, I recommend an aquarium - a 10 or 15 gallon aqaurium would be sufficient for a dozen worms! Fill the aquarium with reasonably packed dirt (put the dirt in the aquarium and shake it down so that the dirt settles together - DON'T "tamp it down" and make it very hard), and sprinkle water over it the way you would water a plant - make the dirt moist, do not put so much water in it that water accumulates at the bottom of the tank. Keep checking the dirt, water it occasionally, they way you would a plant. Don't let the dirt dry out, or the worms will die - notice that earthworms are kind of wet and slimy looking! They need to be slimy to ooze around underground - and they need water to be slimy.
Once you've got a tank of moistened dirt, place your earthworms on the surface and sit back and watch. If you're lucky, some of them may burrow up against the glass, and you can watch them as they go!
There are many things you can do with earthworms to learn more about them:
Why do they have tiny little bristles coming out of their sides? How do they mate? What do they eat? What valuable service do they provide to the soil (and your lawn, garden, etc.) Why do they all come up to the surface during a hard rain? (You can simulate this with your aquarium: Add so much water that only the SURFACE of the dirt isn't under water. What do the worms do?). How do they burrow through the soil? What is their anatomy - inside and out? What is the evolutionary position of earthworms? How do they relate to the other worms in the PHYLUM ANNELIDA (the major worm grouping that includes the earthworms; it has three principle sub-groups: the earthworms, the polychaetes (the fluffier ocean worms), and the leeches. There is a tiny little relative to the big earthworm, it's called "Eisenia foetida." You can actually BUY this worm in bulk to help with composting! how does a tiny little worm help with composting?? What happens if you have several tanks set up with different kinds of dirt in it? For example, one tank with sandy soil, one tank with a clay soil, one tank with gardening soil, etc. etc. Do the worms behave any differently in the different soils? What if you stop watering the soil?Good luck with your experiments!!
ps: Did you know that the Giant Earthworm in Australia can be over 3
Imagine finding THAT in your garden one day!
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