If You Cut An Earthworm In Half

Will an earthworm grow into two earthworms if you cut it in half? The answer is no. For some species of earthworm, if you cut off its tail, it will grow its tail back. In some rare instances, if you cut off the head, the head will grow back!

But either way, the part that is cut off will not regrow into an earthworm.

Earthworms have segments, and if you cut off x-number of segments, for many species, that number of segments will grow back. Researchers have experimented in many different ways with this interesting regenerative aspect of earthworms. Some researchers have cut off the same segments of an earthworm several times to watch the segments grow back every time. Some poor worms have been cut thirty times! And they kept regrowing those segments.

The lengths researchers are willing to go to explore this unusual ability of earthworms border on the repulsive. In her book, The Earth Moved, Amy Stewart wrote:

This phenomenon has led some researchers to experiment with transplanting heads or tails from one worm onto another. Like circus animals, the worms oblige and continue to perform. You can cut a tail off and suture it to the head of another worm, and within a couple of weeks, the intestines and nerves will join together and work properly, even if the two ends are rotated at a forty-five-degree angle to one another and then joined. You can take a head from one, a tail from another, and the middle section from a third, suture them all together in the correct sequence, and get one complete worm.

Strange and macabre, but hey, it's research, right? Back to our original question: No, you cannot increase the earthworm population by cutting worms in half. But give them the right food, and they will multiply mightily.

How Many Earthworms Are In An Acre?

"Over the last few decades, earthworm censuses have found over a million worms per acre in Geneva, New York; Frederick, Maryland; and LaCrosse, Wisconsin."

- Quoted from the book, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

Is Organically Grown Food Better Than Conventionally Grown Food?

When a study comes out that shows organic oranges have more vitamin C than conventionally grown oranges, it doesn't make the news. We fully expect that. But when a study shows that there is no difference, it makes headlines. The soundbite headline from recent meta-study by Stanford says organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally grown food.

But that's an oversimplified description of what they actually found. In an article published on the Stanford School of Medicine web site, they report that the study found:

1. Organic produce contains more phenols.
2. Organic produce contains more phosphorus.
3. Organic milk often contains more omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Organic produce is 30 percent less likely to contain pesticides.
5. Children eating organic diets have lower levels of pesticides in their urine.
6. Organic chicken and pork are less likely to expose you to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Those are some of the findings of the Stanford study that created this headline: "Little Evidence of Health Benefits From Organic Foods." The Stanford study was a meta-study, meaning they looked at data from many studies. Another meta-study, which you can read about here, found the opposite. The study was by Newcastle University in England, and it found that organic produce was more nutritious, with more vitamin C, and "many more of the plant-defense molecules that in people help shield against cancer and heart disease."

How could these meta-studies come up with such divergent results? Partly because the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables not only vary by season and region, but can also vary because of the history of a particular plot. Let's say the soil has been exhausted by conventional farming for twenty years, and is then sold to an organic farmer who begins to build that topsoil back up. The first few years the crops might be relatively low in nutrients because plants can absorb more nutrients — especially minerals — from soil rich with living organisms. To create healthy soil full of earthworms, fungi, nematodes, bacteria, algae, protozoa, arthropods, insects and small vertebrates, it takes awhile. But when that soil has been built up, the food grown in the soil tends to be more nutritious.

On the other hand, a forest may have been burned to create fresh new farmland on rich soil. The food was grown conventionally but the soil has not yet been exhausted, so the produce may be very nutritious even though it isn't organic.

Organic food is usually more expensive than conventionally grown food. The Stanford study was trying to determine whether that extra expense is worth it to consumers. Does that food confer a big enough advantage to be worth it? This is a fair question, but it doesn't address a bigger issue. One of the main reasons to buy organic food is its affect on the environment. Conventional farming uses pesticides, herbicides and fungicides as well as artificial fertilizers. All of these can cause environmental damage. The toxins kill pests, but can also kill birds, mammals, other plants, the living organisms in the soil, etc. Chemical fertilizers run off into the rivers and eventually into the oceans and can cause algae blooms that suffocate fish, etc.

So even if organic food was no more nutritious, it would still be worth paying extra for. If you've ever been angry at a corporation for putting profits before the environment because it is morally wrong, then you know that buying food grown in a way that harms the environment because it is cheaper would be equally and similarly wrong.

Another aspect of this is the unknown effects of genetically modified organisms. GMOs cannot be used in organic products. Organic farmers are not allowed to use GMO seeds, and the animals cannot eat GMO feed. (Source)

Organic methods tend to be more humane as well. Chickens labeled "organic," for example, are cage-free, even if the label doesn't say "cage-free." And they never get vaccines or antibiotics. (Source)

Your best bet for the highest quality, most nutritional food that has the most benign effect on the environment is to always buy organically grown food. One of our most precious natural resources is healthy living soil. Organic practices take care of the soil, the most important foundation of all terrestrial life. For that reason alone, organic food is worth the extra price.

Read more: Does Dirt Need Saving?

Earthworms Are Made of Carbon

Healthy soil is rich with living organisms — bacteria, fungus, insects, plants and worms. Each of these organisms are full of carbon. Where did they get their carbon? It was taken out of the air by plants and is now on or below the surface of the earth.

If you are concerned about carbon dioxide levels rising in the atmosphere, you should be determined to get more of that carbon dioxide out of the air and into the ground. The amount of carbon dioxide that can be sequestered per acre is considerable.

The healthier the soil, the more living organisms live in it.

And one of the best indicators of healthy, living soil is the presence of earthworms. So we can focus on this simple goal — more earthworms — and we will be moving in the direction of reversing climate change.