A Note Upon Phosphorescent Earthworms

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IT has been long known that earthworms may be phosphorescent. So long ago as 1836 Prof. Dugès described, under the name of Lumbricus phosphoreus, a worm which showed this peculiarity. In 1887 Prof. Giard showed that a worm probably identical with this, and, if so, not a Lumbricus at all, was marked luminous, especially when the soil was disturbed in the vicinity. Giard named the species Photodrilus phosphoreus. It has been met with and noticed to be luminous by two other observers. Quite recently (Zoolog. Jahrbücher, xii., 1899, p. 216) Dr. Michaelsen, of Hamburg, ascertained that this species of Giard is really identical with Microscolex modestus of Rosa. The multiplication of names is hardly the fault of Prof. Giard, since the genus Microscolex had only been instituted a few months before his genus Photodrilus. This species, unlike the majority of its congeners, which are chiefly congregated in Patagonia, and there very abundant, is not only European, but also occurs in England. It seems also to be, at least usually, phosphorescent. I received some time since, through the kindness of Mr. Carleton Rea, a few small earthworms from the neighbourhood of Worcester, which were undoubtedly a Microscolex, and at least not much different from M. modestus, Mr. Rea informed me that they were phosphorescent, with a “light emitted exactly similar to that of the glow-worm.” They could be stimulated to show this light by “stamping the lawn.” It has been suggested that this phosphorescence in earthworms is really due to photogenic bacteria entangled in the slime upon the skin. Possibly such an explanation may account for the occasional phosphorescence of Allolobophora foetida (the “Brandling”), observed by Vejdovsky. But the regularity, and the mode of excitation, of the luminosity seems to show that Microscolex is phosphorescent in its own right.

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BEDDARD, F. A Note Upon Phosphorescent Earthworms. Nature 60, 52 (1899) doi:10.1038/060052e0

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