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Do Elephants Have Knees? And Other Stories of Darwinian Origins$
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Charles R., Jr. Ault

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501704673

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501704673.001.0001

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Irritating Worms

Irritating Worms

The Elderly Darwin Fascinated by the Intelligence of Worms

(p.55) 4 Irritating Worms
Do Elephants Have Knees? And Other Stories of Darwinian Origins

Charles R. Ault

Cornell University Press

This chapter focuses on the elderly Charles Darwin's fascination with worms, and especially the emergence of intelligence. Always seeking precision in his observations, Darwin made worm science the family business. His sons were his research assistants. Horace worked looking for worm castings in the cellar of a neighbor's house. Francis collected decomposing leaf fragments from worm burrows to test them for alkalinity. William was assigned the task of recording whether worms dragged leaves into their burrows by the stalk or leaf tip. This chapter examines Darwin's work with worms, including his worm and “vegetable mould” (humus) research, his scientific paper that describes the free-swimming larvae of Flustra, and his reconsideration of grandfather Erasmus Darwin's musings on the existence of primordial forms, like the living filament or “embryon fibre.” It also discusses Darwin's observations of branching organisms such as corallines and the work of worms as a metaphorical expression of his conception of evolution.

Keywords:   worms, Charles Darwin, intelligence, Flustra, Erasmus Darwin, embryon fibre, branching organisms, corallines, evolution

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