Earthworms and its Benefit to Nature
By Obiabin Onukwugha and Ngozi Eyeh
Earthworms are annelids, which are segmented worms. They typically have a cylindrical body with a slimy skin that helps them move through soil.
There are thousands of earthworm species, each adapted to different ecological niches. Some are surface dwellers, while others burrow deep into the soil.
Mostly called ‘Itu’, by the Yoruba tribe, earthworm comes in various colors and sizes, with the most common species being reddish-brown or gray.
Earthworms are detritivores, meaning they primarily feed on dead plant material and organic matter in the soil.
They are also fascinating creatures that play a crucial role in soil health and ecosystem balance as they ingest soil and decaying leaves, thus breaking down the organic material and releasing valuable nutrients.
Earthworms, according to researchers, are mostly found in many parts of the world, primarily in moist soil environments. ‘Itu’ can also be found in gardens, forests, grasslands, and even in some aquatic habitats.
Also called ‘Iheju’ by the Igbos, earthworm burrow through the soil, thus creating channels that improve aeration. This activities benefits plant roots by allowing better oxygen and water penetration.
Researchers say as earthworms feed on organic matter, they excrete nutrient-rich casts (worm poop), which enhances soil fertility. They also help create a crumbly soil structure, making it more suitable for plant growth and root penetration. Their burrowing activity can also help prevent soil erosion.
Apart from its environmental benefits, earthworm called ‘Ebal’ in Odual, an Ijaw tribe, is used as bait for fishing.
Like other nature’s life, earthworm has traditional folklore that attributes it to wisdom and economic problem-solving skills.
According to a tale, once upon a time, in a small village, lived a wise old earthworm named “Iko” by the Ibibios.
It is said that one day, a group of animals in the forest suffered drought and needed to find a new source of water as their old one had dried up. The animals gathered to discuss the issue, and a wise Owl suggested seeking ‘Iko’ advice.
The animals went to the earthworm’s burrow and asked for his guidance. After listening to the presentation, the earthworm told them about a hidden underground spring he had come across during his travels beneath the earth.
With its directions, the animals embarked on a journey, digging and burrowing through the earth. After days of hard work, they finally found the underground spring, and their thirst was quenched.
The animals were incredibly grateful to ‘Iko’ for his wisdom and guidance. They celebrated their newfound water source and honored ‘Iko’ as a hero of the forest.
The story of the wise earthworm, passed down from generation to generation is a reminder that wisdom can be found in unexpected places.
Called Jaki in Hausa, earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs.
Earthworms reproduce through a process called copulation. They mate by aligning their bodies and exchanging sperm. Afterward, they produce eggs, which hatch into juvenile earthworms.
The presence of earthworms in soil is often considered an indicator of soil health. Their absence or decline can indicate soil degradation.
‘Jaki’ have been the subject of extensive scientific research due to their importance in soil ecology and agriculture.
A typical earthworm lives for about 1 to 5 years, depending on the species.
However, some earthworm species can live longer, reaching up to 8 to 10 years or more under optimal conditions.
The quality of the soil, moisture levels, temperature, and food availability all impact an earthworm’s lifespan.
Ideal conditions with rich, moist soil and a consistent food source tend to support longer lifespans.
Earthworms are preyed upon by various animals, including birds, mammals, and other invertebrates. Predation can significantly reduce their lifespan.
Earthworms are refered to as unsung heroes of the ecosystem, contributing to soil health, plant growth, and nutrient cycling. They are essential for maintaining healthy soils and the productivity of agricultural and natural resources.