Friday, February 25, 2011

The Worms are Doin' the Dirty...

As I was recently feeding my worms and doing a general check-over of worm bin conditions, I caught 2 worms havin' the "S".  You are probably asking yourself, "Ag Nerd, how do worms get down?"  Well, let me explain it to you.  My particular species of worm, Eisenia Fetida, become sexually mature at around 12-14 weeks of age.  At this time, you will notice what some people call the "breeding band" form around the cranial end of the worm.  For those of you with gross-word-aversions (i.e. 'Moist' or 'Pus') look away now, for this band is called the Clitellum (a word a friend of mine finds completely nauseating). See the pic below:

So, here comes the dreaded 'talk' that most worms get when they reach this magic 12-14 week age;  When two worms really love each other, they seek each other out and lie end to end, touching their heads to the other's clitellum.  What happens next is an amazing, sexy, and weird transfer of genetic information and mucousy bodily fluids (Cue Marvin Gaye "Let's Get It On").  While worms are hermaphroditic, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive characteristics, they fertilize each other during mating.  This ensures genetic diversity, which contributes to the health of the species and goes a long way towards disease resistance and adaptation to environmental changes.

So, each worm's semen is deposited in the others' seminal receptacles, where it is held for a brief period of time while a mucousy pouch forms around the head end of the worm.  The semen and eggs are finally united within this pouch, which then hardens and slides off the end of the worm, becoming a cocoon.  These are some that I found while rummaging around my own worm bin:

Each cocoon contains between 3 and 4 worms and will hatch in 18-26 days.  As they near hatching time, the cocoons become darker in color and may even take on a reddish tint.  Here is a pic of a baby worm that I found in my bin at home:

The worm population will grow until it reaches an equilibrium with the food supply and living space of their environment, in this case my worm bin.

For my undergrad research project, I want to build an experiment around using these worms to break down used coffee grounds from local coffee shops to the end of producing soil amendment and compost tea.  More on that in the future! 

On another note, I recently applied for an internship at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, NC.  It is sponsored by North Carolina State University, which is probably my number one choice for grad school   The internship looks amazing, and I find out if I am accepted on March 15, so keep your fingers crossed!  Check out the link to the CEFS and said internship too!

I'll keep everyone posted as soon as I find out!

1 comment:

  1. That was a riveting post, thank you for answering a long time question of mine. I knew that worms are hermaphrodites and I also knew that they had some kind of mating ritual, but the reason was beyond me. Also, the day you find out about your internship is a very lucky day, I feel good about it.