Ah, the earthworm! Slimy...yet satisfying...?! Definitely, for birds, toads, rats, fish (when used as bait), and even chipmunks. Also for humans when we see them in our soil, but more on that later.
First some fascinating facts about these squirmy wormies:
- There are over 6,000 species of earthworm, with over 180 species living in the United States and Canada!
- They are originally from Europe, but now live in North America and Western Asia.
- Earthworms are also (and aptly) known as Nightcrawlers because they come above ground at night and burrow during the day.
- When underground, worms tend to stay near the surface, but they are able to burrow as deep as 6.5 feet!
- Earthworms do not have lungs. They breathe through their skin!
To learn more fun facts with some infographics, check out National Geographic's Kids Page on earthworms.
So why are earthworms great for your garden?
Because 1) worms burrow; and 2) they eat as they go. An earthworm's ring-like segments - called annuli - have small bristles - called setae - which they use to move through the soil. This aerates the ground, allowing air, water and nutrients to fill those spaces. As the worm moves, it eats. They take in nutrients from one place in the ground and transport them to another through their waste. They can eat up to 1/3 their body weight every day...and what goes in must come out! A little gross, sure, but totally worth it for your fresh crops!
OBSERVE THE REAL THING!
We discovered a bunch of worms in our yard under a thick blanket of rotting leaves (which is a great reason not to rake leaves, my friends). As they squirmed away, we watched how they moved, how long they were, and how many there were in various spots. We were mesmerized. If you can't find any in your yard, there are videos, like this one showcasing the longest worm found in the United Kingdom!
This is what worms do, right?! They find nutrients in the soil and break it down while aerating the soil. Some people even add worms TO their compost piles to help expedite the decomposition process! But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. With parental permission, try creating a small composting pile in your yard. You don't need a lot of space. Here's an awesome craft that scales down composting into soda bottles! Perfect your kiddos!
MAKE EDIBLE SOIL SAMPLES!
Riffing off the activity directly above, if real composting isn't quite the best idea at the moment, you can still enjoy a lesson about soil...and then eat it! Here's a great lesson (based on third grade curriculum) that helps build a diagram of soil layers with the classic gummy worm thrown in for good measure.
BE A BOOK WORM!
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