Wiggle Worms (FBCEC)

Summary:

Earthworms are fascinating tillers of the soil. As many as 190,000 can populate a single acre. In this activity, participants will examine worms, learning how they live, what they eat and why they are beneficial to plants and animals, including humans. They will learn about the earthworm’s life cycle using literature and will create a story circle that illustrates the life cycle of an earthworm.

Grade Level:

Pre K - 6

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:

No

Location:

Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR

Contact:

Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484

Duration:

45 minutes - 1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 24

Special Conditions:

Live worms are used and must be currently available.  Inquire

Objectives:

  • Observe the characteristics of an earthworm.
  • Understand the habitat requirements for an earthworm.
  • Describe the life cycle of an earthworm.
  • Recognize the vital ecological role played by earthworms.

Key Terms*:

Aeration

Clitellum

Compost

Fertilization

Regenerate

Segment

Setae

Vermicomposting

*See glossary for definations

Materials:

“An Earthworm’s Life” by Jim Himmelman

Hand lenses

Laminated life cycle poster with Velcro circles

Petri dishes

Pictures of the earthworm’s life cycle, cut, laminated and with Velcro on the back

Plastic water dropper bottles

Red Wiggler composting bin

Stereomicroscopes

Background:

Earthworms eat as they burrow through the soil, aerating and fertilizing it. They impact the soil we depend on for growing our food. These invertebrates have interesting anatomy and life cycles and can be easily raised in a small space in the home or classroom. An active vermicomposting bin can steadily supply “red wigglers” for study, feeding other classroom animals and providing fertile compost.

Procedure:

  1. Ask participants why earthworms might be one of the more important animals to humans. Discuss the importance of worms in conditioning soil (through aeration and fertilization) so that plants can grow, our dependence on plants, etc.
  2. Display a poster of an earthworm and
    escribe the animal’s anatomy and characteristics.
  3. Display the Red Wiggler bin and explain what it is, how it works and how it is maintained.
  4. Invite participants to take out a wiggler. They should place the worm in a Petri dish and keep the worm “barely moist” with the dropper bottles, but not too wet. Make sure they understand that an earthworm breathes through its skin. This would be a good time to discuss why worms stay under ground and why they come to the surface when it rains.
  5. Have your participants note the worm’s response to touch. Ask them to locate the segments, the “head end” and the clitellum. Instruct them to use a hand lens or a microscope to find the setae, and see if they can count the segments. There should be about 150. Explain that earthworms can regenerate a portion of their bodies if it is cut off. They can regrow the head end if less than 10 segments are lost, and the tail end can regenerate around 30 or so segments.
  6. Read “An Earthworm’s Life” to the participants, discussing what is happening in the story. Ask them to identify what they see in the picture besides the animal. Where is it living? What else do they see? How are those things important in the story of this earthworm’s life. Give each participant one laminated picture that shows a part of the life cycle or the habitat where the earthworms live. As a group, retell the story using the poster and the pictures. Guide the participants through the story and alert them if they have the piece that represents that stage or habitat in the earthworm’s life. Let them place it on the proper part of the laminated poster. For older participants, an option is to simply explain the life cycle.
  7. Look for cocoons or tiny worms in the bin and view them under a microscope.

Modifications:

Participants can create “worm art” by dipping them in paint and letting them crawl on a large piece of paper.  Rinse the worms before returning them to the bin.

Review:

  • Describe several physical characteristics of earthworms.
  • Explain how earthworms help with aeration and fertilization of the soil.
  • What are the habitat requirements for earthworms?

Resources:

  • Earthworms (2003). www.kidcyber.com.au
  • Hand, Julia (1995). The Wonderful World of Wigglers, Common Roots Press.
  • Himmelman, John (2000). An Earthworm’s Life, Children’s Press.
  • Lavies, Bianca (1993). Compost Critters. Dutton Children’s Books.
  • Silverstein, Alvin and Virginia (2000). Life in a Bucket of Soil, Dover Publications, Inc.

Glossary:

Aeration – to supply with or expose to air

Clitellum – thickened saddle-like region of epidermis in earthworms and leeches whose secretions bind copulating worms and later form a cocoon around the eggs

Compost – mixture of decayed plants and other organic matter resulting from controlled biological decomposition; sanitized through heat generation and used to enrich soil and stimulate plant growth 

Fertilization (soil) – supplementing the  nutrients in soil to support plant growth

Regenerate – to reproduce or renew tissues or organs which have been lost or severely injured

Segment – any one of the individual units that make up an animal’s body or part of its body.

Setae – Any slender, more or less rigid, bristle-like organ or part; as the hairs of a caterpillar, the slender spines of a crustacean, the hair-like processes of a protozoan, the bristles or stiff hairs on the leaves of some plants, or the pedicel of a moss capsule

Vermicomposting – process of using worms to transform organic waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer