Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moles, not magic, make worm 'grunting' work

The weed patch was perhaps my favorite part of visiting Downe. Not only because the tiny, marked off pasture was cute to say the least, but it was also the site and means of Darwin's worm experiments which testified to me his eccentricity. As learned in class, Darwin would observe his worms' reactions after he played bassoon or blew tobacco at them among many other things. His worm experiments was among my list of reasons of why I think Darwin was, in his later life, a crazy old bat.

Then I read this article and realized Darwin's wish to conjure worms from the earth are not as silly as I originally thought and that they even produced practical purposes in todays' world-- most importantly though, the article talked about the modern verification of ideas brought up by Darwin centuries ago about worms' responses to tremors.

Experiments, inspired by Darwin's and funded by Vanderbilt University, has produced strong evidence suggesting worms arise from the earth to escape predators. Specifically, those predators are moles. Scientists had recorded the sound of mole movements under the earth, replayed them into the ground within a controlled environment, then measured how fast worms' crawled up and away from the sound. The experiments are useful for 'grunters,' those who harvest worms as an occupation.

The article was really fun to read. Some random, interesting information was presented through an interview with an enthusiastic 'grunter' about his 'grunting' techniques. He exhibited the same level of enthusiasm regarding worms as Darwin's observations and was a likeable character in the article. On the scientific side, the researchers were just as excited if not for the experiment's results then for the fact that it flourished so successfully out of Darwin's notion brought up centuries ago. This is echoed in the main researcher's statement, ""This particular study was just wonderful because each little step made so much sense," Catania said. "It just all sort of fit together one piece after another all stemming from that original thought Darwin had."
The biggest impact the article had on me was it's show appreciation for Darwin the weirdo. My earlier post about the new Darwin film coming out portrayed him as some tormented, epic figure whereas most other science articles depict him as an astute, dedicated naturalist. In my opinion and judging from the other New and Hots, Darwin's eccentricities are hardly ever in the spotlight. In this article, they are and I like it!


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