The earthworm (Phylum Annelida, class Underachiever) has spent millions of years evolving in the dirt and detritus, yet peculiarly enough didn’t put in the little extra effort required to become a snake. It already has well-developed organ, circulatory and nervous systems neatly packed into a successful tubular body plan. Relatively speaking, how much more DNA mutation is involved to whip up a simple venom gland and a fang or two? This lack of follow-through is perplexing and disappointing, to say the least.
‘Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Stay in school and become a snake.’
Following this colossal evolving blunder, the earthworm got itself involved in some pretty hokey stuff. Not to judge or anything, but have you heard that the earthworm is a hermaphrodite? That’s right. Earthworms wield male and female reproductive organs, meaning that any given earthworm can, and, unfortunately will, mate with another. This whole unseemly process is well described and probably more off-putting than you might think. It involves the formation of cocoons and the mutual exchange of…you know what…let’s not do this. Let’s leave it at Ick.
The second tragedy in the earthworm story is that when it failed to actualize its full biological potential (opting instead to pursue a sad ecological niche eating rotten organic matter, aerating/enriching soil, and having relations with anything that moves) there was another, smarter, biding organism by the name of Homo sapiens waiting in the shadows for a chance to profit from the earthworm’s poor self esteem and enticing body parts. Mankind is like a manager at a strip club.
Soft, fleshy, cheap, fairly complex, abundant – and most important, harmless creatures with low estimations of themselves – make excellent candidates for dissection. Thus the earthworm followed the frog into the biology labs of high schools and colleges throughout the country. It’s worth pointing out to the earthworm that snakes don’t generally have this problem because they have fangs. If you want something to dissect, it’s much easier to wait until it rains and scoop slow, toothless specimens off your driveway then it is to go following the sounds of cautionary hissing coming from under rocks. In short, half of life is simply showing up at the midterm.
‘Okay. Now pin my ventral nerve and make a two-inch incision along my subpharyngeal ganglion until you bisect my… whoa, whoa! I said my subpharyngeal ganglion, you freshman. Have you even looked at Chapter 12? Oh man, I should’ve been a snake.’
So basically, that’s why earthworms can always be found beneath a scalpel – and why they are so often bitter about it. Dissection, more than anything else in the earthworm’s life, is a potent aide-mémoire for bad choices made.
‘Now THAT is my subpharyngeal ganglion. You getting all this, freshman?’
Lastly, we’d be negligent if we didn’t mention that earthworms have five hearts and the ability to regenerate lost segments of their segmented bodies. These are impressive features, to be sure, but, again, they go to waste wriggling around in the muck and the mire.
Were Animal Review to offer one piece of advice to earthworms, it would be to pick themselves up, dust off, evolve something long and pointed in their mouth, and go bite something.