Many of us are familiar with earthworms, and from a young age we have learned to respect them with the knowledge they are good for the health and well-being of the soil in which they thrive. They play a highly important role in decomposition, consuming decaying plant material and in the process improving soil fertility and structure. They also till and aerate the earth, which aids in plant root growth and allows oxygen to penetrate. During the night, some earthworms emerge from the soil to feed on dead plant material on the ground surface, and will drag fallen leaves into their tunnels. Some worms, like the Common Earthworm Lumbricus terrestris,
will also produce worm casts (soil and undigested plant material) on the surface.
Earthworms are annelids which mean they have segmented bodies. Along their length they have tiny claw like bristle or ‘setae’ which help in their movement. They are hermaphrodite, having both male and female sex organs, and in adult worms the clitellum or saddle can be seen which is a ring covering several segments towards the front of the worm which is where egg cocoons are produced.
The UK and Ireland have around 30 species of earthworm which can be found in a variety of habitats.