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This is a subject of but small importance; and I know not whether it will interest any readers, but it has interested me.
December 30, 2010 1:20 AM   Subscribe

"This is a subject of but small importance; and I know not whether it will interest any readers, but it has interested me."-C. D. Quick... what was Darwin's most popular book? If you answered The Origin of Species, you were wrong. It was his last book, published the year before he died, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms With Observation of Their Habits (illustrations [first presented 1 Nov. 1837, as noted in the record of the Royal Geological Society]). Darwin noted when he was beginning his career that worms churned up soil, causing heavier objects to sink slowly in the soil. He noted that all soil had passed through the alimentary duct of worms. It started off a fashion of cultivating worms by gardeners that continues to the present day. -We recently learned that we owe an element of our unique cerebral cortex, or pallium to our marine worm ancestors. (In amphibians, the cerebrum includes archipallium, paleopallium and some of the basal nuclei. Reptiles first developed a neopallium, which continued to develop in the brains of more recent species to become the neocortex of mammals." [&, ultimately, you and you and we])

posted by infinite intimation (11 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

Fascinating. On many levels.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:33 AM on December 30, 2010

Best trivia question ever.
posted by msalt at 1:57 AM on December 30, 2010

This post is definitely a labor of love and, personally, I really appreciate it. When you visit Darwin's house outside of London, there are signs everywhere of his worm obsession, including the mysterious looking worm stones in the garden.

I came back from that visit curious about what Darwin was up to and about the underappreciated role of worms. So, I read or browsed some of the papers linked in this post. Thank you for all the links and for bringing it altogether!
posted by vacapinta at 2:03 AM on December 30, 2010

I've heard that worms could create a million new jobs.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:20 AM on December 30, 2010

Oh, and people have been under-appreciating worms for too long. For example, the word vermin comes from the Latin for "worm".
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:36 AM on December 30, 2010

This post, infinite intimation, gets an A+. It's a fricking work of art. Among other things I learned that we owe an element of our pallium to the "lowly" worm.

Your effort on this one is appreciated.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:01 AM on December 30, 2010

I'm sure that Origin of Species has sold more copies at this point
posted by delmoi at 4:26 AM on December 30, 2010

I spent fifteen years of my childhood and onward living in one house. When we moved in, there were stones forming a path to the back hedge, with a circle of stones near the end of the path. Since I was largely responsible for mowing the lawn, it was noticeable over time that the stones sank and disappeared, apparently on a time-lapsed sea of churning worms. Worms were everywhere in our back yard, especially after the rain, and their little trails of excreted dirt made gently wiggling lines on the paving stones before they went under.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:34 AM on December 30, 2010

Thirding the fabulousness of this post.

I've also read that earthworms are part of the complex of "European" invasive species that accompanied colonists to North America, and maybe other places. Does that make sense? Part of this I got from a radio interview 20 years ago where they were talking about how little is know about native North American earthworms because it's not thought to be a highly desirable vocation, and in fact at that time there was no one with a broad knowledge of the field or N. American earthworm taxonomy. (I have no idea if this was or is still true.) The starting point of that interview was that at least some native species were likely to be displaced by species imported from Europe and Asia. And here's me growing Texas Red Wigglers in my living room, for Pete's sake.
posted by sneebler at 7:45 AM on December 30, 2010

I'm going to have to disagree somewhat with the love, here. I'm not begrudging the work that went into the post, and clearly the subject matter is interesting, but the presentation of it all is really off-putting.

intimate_intimation, it would be nice if you would distill your posts a little more in the future, or at least put them in a more straightforward framing. A lot of your posts are just lengthy collections of links to and blockquotes of dense, loosely-related academic material with little organization or explanation, like you just copied-pasted every URL cite from a thesis bibliography or a Google Scholar search. It's quite daunting to parse, especially if you're not familiar with the topic. I hate skipping over such an exhaustively-researched post just because it's difficult to navigate.

The post would be a lot better if you selected the material that best illustrated the phenomenon you're trying to share (including some more journalistic pieces that summarized and contextualized all the raw data) and then embedded those links in some explanatory paragraphs of your own which tied all the material together into a coherent narrative. Break it up by topic, if necessary, beginning each section with a few lines explaining the sub-topic in your own words and linking to broad overview material while incorporating the rest of the links for that topic in a simple bulleted list (I've done this myself for longer posts). Relying exclusively on quotes/links with little guidance from the OP makes the post feel disjointed and rambling. It's called MetaFilter for a reason -- a little curation goes a long way.

(And please, use blockquotes sparingly, or at least add some paragraph breaks. It gives the post an unpleasant "wall-of-text" look that's hard to read, especially when much of it is italicized.)
posted by Rhaomi at 8:29 PM on December 30, 2010

Sorry if the soils obscured the squirmin' vermi wormin for anyone; I was (hubristically) attempting to build a picture made of words, of lyrical soil horizons, comprised of ideas with an attempt at accounting for density, porosity, granularity to represent the evolution of the soils, in conjunction with the evolution of the species... Bested by my own over-enthusiasm once again it seems I am. I have done precise and tidy before- lettuce get experimental I thought to myself, in an impulse before posting, “WWDD” (WWDarwinDo) Experimental dear Watson! My Bad. This is soil horizons, with some fun, and some art, and some science, messy and dirty, like soils and their tiers, which really bleed into one another, are disjointed and discontiguous this had to be disjointed and discontiguous, with some fossils thrown in, and some decomposing matter to boot. That was what was attempted anyway, your opinion is certainly valid, and taken in stride. It's also my first Omnomnomopostæa. Wherin a post looks and tastes like that which it is. And beautiful worms presaging the bountiful brains on display so often on that font of all things interesting; Metafilter.

Thanks for the kind words, and neat links everyone (nice post there Rhaomi, that sure is a great presentation of those things, great job, and what others said in that thread, "that is a great post, and you should be very proud of it". Interesting factoid related to the material; Tartakovsky [linked in your post], in an homage to Nelvana animators, who did the animated portions of the holiday special [linked several times recently here], and many other projects through the years created a planet called Nelvaan in his animated work on star wars clone wars). I hope the holiday season treats everyone well! Best wishes.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:15 PM on December 31, 2010

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