Last modified on 11 August 2014, at 15:18

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms is an 1881 book by Charles Darwin on earthworms.[1]

Quotes from the bookEdit


  • As I was led to keep in my study during many months worms in pots filled with earth, I became interested in them, and wished to learn how far they acted consciously, and how much mental power they displayed (pp. 2-3)
  • In the year 1837, a short paper was read by me before the Geological Society of London,[2] "On the Formation of Mould," in which it was shown that small fragments of burnt marl, cinders, &c., which had been thickly strewed over the surface of several meadows, were found after a few years lying at the depth of some inches beneath the turf, but still forming a layer. (p. 3)
  • He remarks that "considering their weakness and their size, the work they are represented to have accomplished is stupendous." Here we have an instance of that inability to sum up the effects of a continually recurrent cause, which has often retarded the progress of science, as formerly in the case of geology, and more recently in that of the principle of evolution. (p. 6)

Chapter 1: Habits of WormsEdit

  • Earth-worms abound in England in many different stations. Their castings may be seen in extraordinary numbers on commons and chalk-downs, so as almost to cover the whole surface, where the soil is poor and the grass short and thin. (p. 9)
  • M. Perrier found that their exposure to the dry air of a room for only a single night was fatal to them. On the other hand he kept several large worms alive for nearly four months, completely submerged in water. (pp. 12-13)
  • Every morning during certain seasons of the year, the thrushes and blackbirds on all the lawns throughout the country draw out of their holes an astonishing number of worms; and this they could not do, unless they lay close to the surface. (p. 16)
  • As it is certain that worms swallow many little stones, independently of those swallowed while excavating their burrows, it is probable that they serve, like mill-stones, to triturate their food. (p. 18)
  • When a worm is suddenly illuminated and dashes like a rabbit into its burrow—to use the expression employed by a friend—we are at first led to look at the action as a reflex one. (p. 23)
  • The comparison here implied between the actions of one of the higher animals and of one so low in the scale as an earth-worm, may appear far-fetched; for we thus attribute to the worm attention and some mental power, nevertheless I can see no reason to doubt the justice of the comparison. (p. 24-25)
  • When the pots containing two worms which had remained quite indifferent to the sound of the piano, were placed on this instrument, and the note C in the bass clef was struck, both instantly retreated into their burrows. (p. 28)
  • It may be presumed that all animals which feed on various substances possess the sense of taste, and this is certainly the case with worms. (p. 32)
  • But some degree of intelligence appears, as we shall see in the next chapter, to be exhibited in this work,—a result which has surprised me more than anything else in regard to worms. (p. 35)
  • These [calciferous] glands (see Fig. 1), judging from their size and from their rich supply of blood-vessels, must be of much importance to the animal. But almost as many theories have been advanced on their use as there have been observers. (p. 43)
  • With respect to the function of the calciferous glands, it is probable that they primarily serve as organs of excretion, and secondarily as an aid to digestion. (p. 49)

Chapter 2: Habits of Worms - continuedEdit

  • Worms seize leaves and other objects, not only to serve as food, but for plugging up the mouths of their burrows; and this is one of their strongest instincts. (p. 58)
  • In this case, therefore, the worms judged with a considerable degree of correctness how best to draw the withered leaves of this foreign plant into their burrows; notwithstanding that they had to depart from their usual habit of avoiding the foot-stalk. (p. 70)


  1. Page numbers from first edition; see external link.
  2. 'Transactions Geolog. Soc.' vol. v. p. 505. Read November 1, 1837.

External linkEdit