Several weeks ago, I was working on repairing a set of stone stairs. Some of the stones had fallen loose and the whole hillside that they ran down needed a retaining wall anyway. Unexpectedly, this lead to an opportunity to learn about worm regeneration.
While digging, my shovel severed the head of an unfortunate earthworm. I was saddened by this, but also curious to see how much harm I had actually done to the poor creature. I had heard that earthworms had incredible regenerative abilities, and I wanted to see if this was true. So I gathered some tasty looking loam and left it above ground inside a jar along with my vermian victim. Definitely not a sound scientific study, but enough to satisfy my curiosity. A week later, I checked inside the jar. To my utter astonishment and joy, the afflicted annelid (a Lumbricus terrestris) slithered lethargically in the soil. And not only that, the severed stump of its head had completely healed over!
And if this picture isn’t enough to convince you of the liveliness of this headless earthworm, here is some videographic evidence as well:
After I had verified its indisputable vivacity, I replaced its loam and this time interred the jar and worm (not a burial as a funerary procedure, but rather as a return (in earthworm terms) to the land of the living) and waited two more weeks.
On the second checkup, the amazing annelid was nowhere to be found, and I presumed it to have returned to the great underground, to live tilling the soil till, tilling, it could till no more. While this experience put me in awe of the regenerative abilities of earthworms (on top of their amazing work ethic and indispensable role in soil health), it also has reduced my reservations about digging in the soil, which inevitably carries the risk of accidentally disturbing or dissecting them, if it is done for a good purpose.
Disturbing the ground is often an unavoidable part of essential building projects, such as building a house. Digging in the ground is often the only way to provide a firm, level foundation for a building. And for us hobbit-hole enthusiasts, it is absolutely unavoidable. This experience has added weight to my conviction that Tolkien’s hobbits were far more ethically, environmentally, and technologically advanced than we are in terms of housing. I think it is far better to temporarily disturb a hundred earthworms (most of which live in top soil, anyway) and build an underground house than to condemn a pregnant strip of land to be the bearer of a barren building for years. Even if worms are harmed in the process, most of them will regenerate; it seems they were designed to endure this kind of thing.
Learn more about earthworms’ regenerative capabilities: https://www.livescience.com/38371-two-worms-worm-cut-in-half.html.