Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pre-Teen Worm Love

(Ok, hold still for the photo, kids!)
I ordered two more pounds of worms on Monday and they arrived today. One teensy bone to pick- they are all pre-adolescent worms. In human years, they are all about nine years old. Not a clitellum to be found on any of the pinkkids.

How's that for arcane? I got your arcane right here, folks!

What's a clitellum, you ask? It's the extra-wide ring around the upper-third section of an earthworm. It's where reproduction takes place. It's only found on adult, sexually mature worms. When worms are in love, they grab onto each other's clitella with the help of setae (basically little hairs) and get to business. The clitellum is also where the egg case is formed. Soon after forming, the egg case is shed from the body. It looks like a tiny translucent lemon- it's even pale yellow at first. Right before hatching, it turns brown. It can hold up to about eight worms, but one to three is more usual.

I've seen worms pregnant with egg cases, and it's exceptionally cool. Worms having sex... well, it just looks sort of pink and gooey. They do it head-to-tail, though, if you must know.

True fact! Worms are hermaphroditic, but still need another worm to reproduce. Another true fact! If you ever see a company claiming they have "hybrid" worms, they are selling you snake oil, not worms. Worms can't be crossbred. That was a big scam on the internets a few years ago. I don't see it so much anymore, though.

But getting back to my child-worms-- eh, maybe it's ok. But I will say, I've done business with 4 different worm companies in 3 years, and this is the first time I didn't receive sexually mature worms.

Now, I'm no oligochaetologist, -gosh, I wish!- (please don't ask me to pronounce it- I'm still not sure I say "Eisenia fetida" correctly), but in the big worm shipment, nearly every worm was already a grown-up. And just two weeks later in the big honkin' Worm Wigwam, I have more egg cases than I've ever seen. And that bin has been a heap of trouble from the get-go.
I'm just worried that, in the case of the small bin with its population of pre-adolescents, it will take longer to form a strong biosphere in the small bin. It's a wormy "Lord of the Flies", if you will.

Sure wish I knew an oligochaetologist to ask personally. Worm scientists are rare as hen's teeth, though.

Which leads to- why on earth am I starting another bin?

Simple. The big bin is too big to directly feed it bunny poop- bun poop is too "hot" for direct feeding to such a large bin. The small bin that hummed along so nicely for several years isn't really big enough to heat up, and bun poop got positively devoured in it. So I'm restarting it as a pre-digester for the big bin.

And, I just love worms. Really, I do.

One problem. I made a big mistake combining my small bin with the large bin. I did it for one reason: to innoculate the big bin with beneficials. But the small bin was a very strong biosphere on its own. It could handle almost anything and thrive. So now I'm starting over with the small bin and it will probably take a minimum of 6 months to get it up and humming again.

The best I can do is innoculate the small bin with a handful or two of bedding/castings from the big bin and hope for the best. And as soon as the snow melts, grab as much leaf mould as the bin will hold, for all the good critters therein.


Grant said...

It's Valentine's Day. You make a post full of phrases like "sexually mature" and words like "clitellum". At first glance, one would think this would be on par with a semi-erotic dime store novel.

Instead, we get a picture of pre-pubescent worms and talk of castings and bunny poop. Ah, romantic. ;-)

ilex said...

Ha! That was my completely subconscious intention, I assure you.

Rabbits' Guy said...

I have heard of homesteading. Months and months of stuck in a small cabin in the bleak winter with no end in sight. Then, strange things begin to happen ...

Yellow said...

Ilex, I can't believe how much I enjoyed this entry. I must be going mad, but I am finding it fascinating.