The classical social insects such as ants, termites, and bees have been mentioned and researched in the long history of life science or biology and agriculture. Their crucial roles in the ecosystem are as bioindicators in between pests and beneficial insects as pollinators have been proven influencing of the sustainability of human population.
The insect ancestor fossils back some 400 million years to the Devonian era. There is a limited fossil of the ancestor of earthworms due to their soft and fragile body. According to the scientists, the first worm has been evolving for about 700 million years during the Cryogenian era. And the first living creatures, Annelida, segmented earthworms moved onto land from water by tunneling through underground and eating nutrients from the soil organic matter about 5 million years ago.
Recently, scientists have discovered earthworms form herds and make “group decisions”. The research started 10 years ago by Lara Zirbes at the University of Liege, Belgium. The research with the hypothesis that a social cue influences the earthworm behavior has been published in the Journal of Ethology.
An earthworm uses touch to communicate and influence each other’s behavior. By doing so the worms collectively decide to travel in the same direction as a part of a single herd. The researchers consider the earthworm behavior as the equivalent of a herd or swarm.
The striking behavior found in the compost worm Eisenia fetida, is the first time that any type of worm or annelid member has been shown to form active herds. This interaction is part of the important ecological role of that earthworm. However, the researchers started to notice that the earthworm specially compost worms seemed also to interact with each other by touching.
This behavior will save the compost worm population during the freezing winter just below zero degree Celsius. They can survive by keeping warmer temperature in the herd rather than as an individual. Moreover, the compost worms produce lumbrokinase as an anti-blood clot enzyme to prevent their blood from being frozen.
Individual compost worms or red wigglers Eisenia fetida and Eisenia andrei secrete antibacterial protein called fetidin, potentially deterring soil pathogens through yellow fluid called fetid from its posterior body to deter predators. According to the researchers, gathering into groups or herds may increase the amount of fetid covering the compost worms and hence better protect them against predators.
The photo above is a handful of red wigglers which will be much easier to be harvested during the Winter as they are forming herds during the freezing weather. One handful of compost worms can be used for processing organic waste per one square foot surface area.
Basically, compost worms or red wigglers are hermaphrodites. The female and male reproductive organs are present in the same animals. Each compost worm has both the male part that produces sperms and the female part that produces eggs. It has been reported that the self-fertilization occurs in compost worms from about 10% of its reproduction activities and mostly at the unfavorable conditions for example in harsh environments, too cold or too wet conditions.
The fact that compost worms always try to find their partners first to exchange the sperms and eggs (mating), can be another indication to support that they are a social animal. Instinctively they try to avoid self-fertilization. Self-fertilization will reduce the quality of the genetic materials within their population.
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