Saturday, April 26, 2008


Tête-à-Tête with Worms

If you're looking for a laugh, perhaps the last place you'd look is Charles Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits. But I couldn't help laughing when I read this passage (from chapter 1, Habits of Worms) and tried to picture in my mind's eye the earnest scientist intent on his investigations:
In worms the sense of smell apparently is confined to the perception of certain odours, and is feeble. They were quite indifferent to my breath, as long as I breathed on them very gently. This was tried, because it appeared possible that they might thus be warned of the approach of an enemy. They exhibited the same indifference to my breath whilst I chewed some tobacco, and while a pellet of cotton-wool with a few drops of millefleurs perfume or of acetic acid was kept in my mouth. Pellets of cotton-wool soaked in tobacco juice, in millefleurs perfume, and in paraffin, were held with pincers and were waved about within two or three inches of several worms, but they took no notice.

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