Willy the Worm's Wonderful Words of Wisdom

(Letters, Questions, and Answers)

Part 4

From: Brian J. Blue
(Brian is from The Woodlands, Texas)

Dear Mr. Paley, Thank you for your message. I like science and all kinds of insects, but right now worms are my favorite.
Sometimes talking to you is just a lttle bit spooky, my friend, because it's a lot like talking to myself (we say a lot of the same things.)

I'm in Mrs. Price's first grade class at Sacred Heart School.
Since my friends at Crooked River Elementary School are in grade 2, and also interested in worms, you might have lots to talk about with them if they write you a letter. (If you would like to write them, their e-mail address is on my guestbook page.)

Our school has a Science Fair each year. I picked a worm project because it sounded like it would be fun.
Willy tells me that's the reason he hangs around here so much...he thinks people are fun.

My Mom and Dad took me to the library to look up stuff about worms and come up with an idea for a good project. My Dad helped me get into your site on the internet also.
Well it certainly sounds like you have a pretty special Dad there, and just think, if you feed enough "stuff" to your worms, the garbage bag will be lighter when your Dad takes it out, and he won't have to work so hard!

For my project, I'm trying to figure out whether worms like to be in dark places or light places
That's a good question, and not really as obvious as some people think (depending on what type of worm, how much light, and one or two other things.)

I took a box and covered the bottom with damp paper towels. Then I covered half of the box with a dark piece of cardboard. I put the box under some light. I placed my worms in the box one at a time to see what they would do.
You, my friend, are going to make a great scientist one day. Your technique (the way you do things) is wonderful, and the fact that you PLACED your worms in the box, and didn't DROP them in, is very important, since an injured, or frightened worm, will react in a different manner than a happy, or healthy worm. (Putting them in one at a time was also a very good way to make sure they stayed calm.)

I found out that all but one of my worms went quickly to the dark side of the box. The other one moved toward the light side. Oh, I used nine worms in my experiment. I wanted ten but the bait shop only had nine in the carton
If you still have these nine worms, you could try the experiment a couple more times, for one or two reasons. First, you should always duplicate any experiment, in order to see if you get the same results each time. That way, you know that the results were not just an accident. Also, if you keep the one worm who is behaving differently separated from the rest, you can see if he always moves to the light, or did he just do that the one time, maybe because he was confused or injured. (There are other reasons that he might move to the light, and we can talk about at least one of them when I answer the question you included in this letter.)

I do have a question.
Actually, there are a few little questions inside your bigger one. Some of the answers are located on my pages already (take a look at the letter from Crooked River Elementary, which you can find by clicking on "Willy the Worm's Wonderful Words of Wisdom", which is also where you will be able to find a copy of your letter, after I send you the original reply!) The main question you ask, however, was not really included in my other answers (sometimes I get real busy), so I will explain it a little better right now.

I learned that worms do not have eyes,
That is correct, worms are blind in the sense that we usually mean when we talk about animals with eyes.

That is also true, but though a worm can't hear things the way we do, they make up for it in a way that is contained in the answer to your "big" question at the end of this letter. (We'll get there yet.)

a nose
You are right once again, BUT....worms do smell, and they smell very well. (Pretty good poetry, if I do say so myself.) If you want to check that out for yourself, just put a few worms in a box, and place a little lettuce in one location in the box, and a little cabbage in another location in the box. Then see which location the worms end up having their lunch in, and ask yourself how come they all ended up in the same place? It's because they like some food better than other food, and they tell the difference by smelling it right through their skin (which is also how they find each other when they want to visit.)

or teeth.
Another one of those trickier things. You see, they don't have teeth (which is why people should not be afraid of them), so what they do is swallow small particles of "grit " , like tiny stones and things, and then store these particles in an area of their stomach which is called a "crop." This is the same thing that birds do, since they also have no teeth. When the food is swallowed by the worm (or the bird), these little particles of grit are used to grind the food into smaller pieces. This is why, in worm bins that use paper for bedding, a little fine sand should be sprinkled into the bed to help the worms digest their food.

How do the worms know dark from light if they can't see?
I'll bet you thought we were never going to make it to this question, but here we are, finally!

Remember I said that worms have a way of making up for not having ears. Well, this is related to one of the two methods that worms use to tell whether or not they are in the light. I should tell you first that the worm doesn't have to think about this problem in the way you might have in mind. This is one of the reactions that is built into the worm when he is born. We call things like this, "instinct."

If you look very carefully at a worm, you will see that it is made up of a whole lot of little pieces, which we call "segments", all joined together. Think of 10 donuts in a container lined up side by side so that you can see all the way through the holes to the other end. On a worm, each of these donuts would be one "segment", and they would be so small that in an average "red worm", there would be between 80 and 120 of them! (Sure would be a big worm if it were made out of donuts.)

Now I don't want to confuse you, so I should tell you that this is not how a worm grows. It doesn't get longer because it is adding extra "segments", but having all the segments as soon as it is born, the growth you see in a worm is the result of the segments getting bigger. There are some other things invoved with this topic, but this letter is already getting pretty long for a young scientist such as yourself, so we can talk about those other things another time. For now, lets get back to your question.)

Each of these segments (donuts), contains several nerves which serve various purposes, and some of the segments have more nerves of one kind than another. The nerves which are sensitive to light are contained mainly in the segments which are closest to the head and the tail of the worm. (Sometimes if you put a little dirt on the worm's head, and a little more on his tail, the worm won't try to dig down, because it thinks it's underground already once most of the light nerves [their big name is "receptors"] are covered up.)

Another interesting point about these "receptors" which are used to detect light, is that they don't "see" red light. If you put a red piece of plastic over a flashlight, and sneak up on your worm bins in the dark, you can shine the red light on them, and they won't even know you are watching them!

So that is one of the ways a worm knows when it is in the light. The other way involves different nerves and works another way. These other nerves are like the ones in your fingertips and they respond (another big word which just means that they "do something") when anything touches them. There are three of these nerves on each of those segments we were talking about, and each one works just a little bit different.

In the end, however, this is what happens, (and I think you saw an example of this with that one worm of yours which headed into the light.) You see, when a worm is placed on any surface, the first thing it will try to do is find a crack that it can move into. It knows it is in a crack when the "touch nerves" tell it that each side of its body is touching something. This "urge" is so strong, a worm will even stay in the light if that is where the crack is located. (The worm just keeps moving around until a crack is located by touching it.)

I'll bet those 8 worms of yours moved into the dark, but didn't stop moving until they were pressed right up against the back of the box, since that is where the crack was. The one that moved into the light must have found the crack that was in the light part of the box before it found the darkness. Since the urge to be in a crack is even stronger than the urge to be in the dark, it stayed where it was. I think if you left it there long enough, the worm would start moving along the crack until it made it into the darker part of the box.

These "touch nerves" are also so sensitive (they work so well), that a worm can "feel" very small vibrations in the soil around them, (or whatever type of surface they are on.) That is how worms "hear" without ears! (More poetry.) In the southern part of the United States, there are people who know how to put a stick in the ground, and then tap it with another stick, so that all the worms around them will come right out of the ground. This is called "worm calling" by some people, and I think that it works because the worms mistake the sound (vibration) for the noise that is made by a mole as it digs through the ground. (That would be a good reason for Willy and his friends to get out of there, since moles eat lots of worms every day.

For now, however, I think you should have enough things to think about, so I will let you go, and I'll talk to you again another time. (Any more questions, let me know.)

Do you know of other experiments with worms which are fun?
Now that you know worms can smell their food, maybe you could try to figure out what their favorite food of all is?

You could also put two worms in each of two or three small containers (not too small), and by putting them in different rooms in your house, you might be able to tell what temperature is best for making worms lay eggs.

The same method can be used to find out how many eggs a worm lays every year, or month, or week?

You work on the method, and if you need any help, or discover anything interesting, you let me know.

Thank you for helping me.
No problem at all.

Did he say something about birds?

Original Text

Copyright 1996, D. Brian Paley


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From: xxxxx and xxxxx
(from xxxxxxxx, U.S.A.)

Worm guy,
Hello xxxxx, and welcome to The Burrow,
I certainly appreciate your wit and sense of humor. I just went through the 5 parts of the Burrow.
Thanks for the nice words, and if I ever get this backlog of mail cleared up, I may get the last part of that article on-line (I've been falling behind as the volume increases.)
My name is xxxxx, I live in xxxxxxxxxx and I feel like I (we) may have been suckered.
Believe it or not, its because so many people who decide to get involved with worms feel this way, that I saw the need for a place where they could get reliable information.
My partner and I just bought worms...from xxx xxxxxx...we have had some problems with the bin and were not getting much support from our supplier, quite discouraging!
Though I don't know the (gentleman?) you mention, it sounds like one of the many offers I've seen where a person is asked to pay a certain amount of money to get set up raising worms, with the idea of selling them back to the person who set them up. Since the idea has always seemed so silly to me, I just assumed that nobody ever got involved with it, but lately I'm hearing from a few people who have. Guess what? They all sound discouraged. (I guess it's time I looked a little closer at this situation.)
I found your home page and made some phone calls and finally talked with xxxxx xxxxxxxx...nice lady.
I'm not really sure how you mean that last comment, but since I've never had personal dealings with the lady, I can't confirm or deny it at that level. I strongly suspect, however, that if I'm not already on her list of "undesirable" people, I will be soon, as more and more of my material isolates the books such as she has written as being the cause of the continual demise of the vermicomposting practice.
She basically made me feel like crap for buying the worms from xxxx xxxxxxx. We spent pretty good money and now I feel ripped-off! Is this a warranted feeling?...Have you heard of this guy and any problems related to him?
Again, this depends on how you mean that. As I've said, I don't have personal experience with this xxxxxx character, or these "schemes", but I suspect they are all designed to make the people like xxxxxxx rich at the expense of well-meaning individuals (like you and your partner) specifically, and vermicomposting or worm breeding in general. I will need further information (which I will detail for you at the end of this letter) before I can decide if these people are really "scamming" the public or not. Possibly, Mrs. xxxxxxxxx would choose to make anyone feel like crap who didn't add to her bank account. I need more information before I can say.
The worms are Phertema hawayana, I asked if they are a hybrid and I have been assured they are not...are they?
The worm you mention is a regular worm, and since it has turned up in my mail twice in the last week or so, I suspect it is becoming more popular. Since it is not one of the better worms for vermicomposting, am I correct in assuming the purpose of this endeavor is to produce fishing bait?
He is selling another worm...Genus/species not known...Japanese Tiger Worm...have you heard of this?
The best worms commonly available for vermicomposting are Lumbricus Rubellus, and Eisenia Foetida. This last worm has among its more common names, Tiger Worm. The reason for this name is that E. Foetida shows prominent stripes in its coloring making it easily distinguished from other red worms. I've never seen Japanese added to the name, but it is a possibility.
They seem to be fairly secretive about many things and uninformed about questions that we raise--everybody gives us a different answer.
This is the problem which I referred to earlier when I said I probably wasn't on Mrs xxxxxx's list of favorite people. You see, many of the writers of the books which are commonly available on worms, obviously had very little knowledge of the details involved. Since the general procedures are so simple, however, they were able to fill a book with generalities which sounded good until the aspiring "wormer" ran into one of several less-common problems. Going back to the book, it would be found that this particular problem was either not dealt with at all, or it was treated as a "mystery", that the less-educated reader couldn't possibly understand. Quite often the result was a lot of confused readers, and a author with a healthier bank account.
He claims that in 30 years he has not refused to buy worms from any of his growers and is currently paying $10.00 per pound...does this sound like a crock to you?
This again depends on what it is that's expected of you. How long must you first maintain these worms? Is he agreeing to buy back "bed-run worms", or only "bait-sized worms"? Will he buy them back whenever they are available, or only in certain "lot sizes", or at certain times? Has he offered to put you in touch with some of the other people he has dealt with in those "30 years"? How much money have those people made? All of these things will help to determine whether or not $10.00 a pound is adequate. Remember that the final selling price of worms in small batches can be as much as $50.00 per pound, but in large batches (100 pounds or more), the price would be only a fraction of that, perhaps as little as $1.00 a pound, or less!
I am sorry to bother you with so much at one time, but if we need to do some reverse negotiations we need to do it asap!
I appreciate your position, and it really is no bother. I hope you don't mind if I include this letter at The Burrow as the beginning to a deeper look at this situation. In relation to that effort, it would help if you could provide me with the following information, and I would encourage anyone else who has information regarding this matter to forward it to me by way of e-mail. (If anyone who offers this business opportunity to the public would like to provide me with their materials, it also would be greatly appreciated, and dealt with in the open-minded manner that I hope has come to be associated with this web location.)

The information I require would consist of:

The initial costs involved in getting started (those paid to the supplier, as well as those used in preparation for bins and such)?

What kind of future profits are being projected (through sale to the general public or industrial sector, as well as sales back to the supplier)?

What kind of support does the supplier offer (since you're basically working for him/her)?

I would also love to hear from anyone who has had exposure to a program of this sort, along with your appraisal of the program (did you retire to Tahiti)?

And basically anything else that might prove of value in figuring out if xxxxx and xxxxx are justified in their feelings of being "ripped-off", or is this a legitimate marketing method with profits to be made?

Thanks for your honesty and helpful reply,
Your welcome, but lets save the thanks until we find out something for certain.
Brian Paley and Willy (who has already put on his Sherlocke Holmes hat....forget the pipe Willy.)

Aww! I won't light it.

Kinda tough with no hands.

Original Text

Copyright 1996, D. Brian Paley


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