A Tale of Two Tails

Stefni Krutz Wednesday, 17 June 2020

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When digging weeds out of my garden area this spring I dug up more earthworms than you can shake a trowel at. They were most abundant near the roots of the dandelions I was pulling up. In the midst of this earthworm fest, I came upon a curious creature: an earthworm with two tails.

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It is commonly believed that an earthworm that is cut in two will become two worms. While this is possible, it isn’t usually the case. Worm regeneration abilities vary by species, but most can lose some segments of the head and still regenerate it. Almost all of them can regenerate a tail that has been lost. Sometimes, a new tail is grown from a lost head, but that creature has no chance of a long and happy life. Often a severed worm will die instead of regrowing the missing end.

In the case of the individual in my garden, it had apparently heard the old adage “two heads are better than one” but applied it to the wrong end.

On a more serious note, be on the lookout for Asian jumping worms in your garden or forest soil. These Asian worms reproduce faster and eat more than our European earthworms. Apparently, they eat so much that a forest floor covered in leaf litter and detritus can be reduced to bare soil conditions. This has negative impacts on soil erosion, soil structure, and nutrient loss. Oh yeah, and they are unsavory to predators, so forget using them as fishing bait.

Paul Hetzler, Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator of CCE St. Lawrence County, wrote a very informative piece on Asian worms called Wormwood in the Sept./Oct. 2019 Issue (Vol. 57, Number 5) of the New York Forest Owner. You can join NYFOA now to get access to the journal or visit https://www.nyfoa.org/resources/archives-new-york-forest-owner to get back issues online.

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