Antagonizing Worms for Science

On a hot spring day, a group of my classmates and I stepped outside  Each of us had some materials in hand, and I thought to myself that this was gonna be such a drag. The weather was very hot and humid, and the study plot was relatively far away. Honestly, what could be so important about field science to have an entire class dedicated to it? At least that was what I thought before we began to conduct our field study.

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One of the larger worms we found in the Hardwoods.

What was the field study we were about to embark on? We were going to antagonize worms for science. The materials we brought with us were a couple gallons of liquid mustard (not to be confused with the condiment, this stuff is just 2% ground mustard and 98% water) and a square plot. Liquid mustard is an irritant to the worm’s skin. Whenever it falls onto them, they will try get away, usually surfacing from the soil. It’s a great way to survey the number of worms in an area, and that is exactly what we were doing. We were comparing the number of worms per square meter in the Hardwoods and a plot of lawn, both on the WCC campus. We were deep into the Hardwoods, about 15 feet away from a pond. The field of lawn was right next to the street and by the entrance to the Hardwoods. What we found was that more worms live in the lawn than the hardwoods. Although surprising, I believe that what I learned by doing this was more substantial than the results of the study.

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A picture of the materials we used, including a ¼ m2 square plot, a gallon of liquid mustard, some orange tape to mark our transect and a string of rope to measure it.

When I first got out there, I didn’t know what to expect, so I set my expectations really low. I didn’t think that pouring liquid mustard on the ground and counting worms could be very exciting. And to be completely honest, waiting around for half an hour for the worms to appear wasn’t. Nonetheless, these studies that we did definitely changed my opinion on field science. At first, I thought that writing down all that data was unnecessarily complicated. It turns out, that data can be used to explain a lot of things, more than just the amount of worms in the forest. According the the Great Lakes Worm Watch, this data can help explain the impact worms have on different ecosystems in different sizes, and explain many of the unexpected changes that may be occurring in an ecosystem, such as a disappearing duff layer. It can also show the rate at which worms spread through an ecosystem.

Because of the time I spent doing that field study, I now appreciate field science, and think of it as something important. We depend on the research done by field scientists in order to make smart decisions to protect forests and animal habitats, as well as to learn more about the world we live in. This field study not only changed my opinion on the importance of field science, but it also changed the way I felt about it on a personal level.

I was not excited for this while preparing, and I wasn’t totally wrong in that. Much of the time we spent on the field was sitting around the plot and watching to see if the worms would come out of the ground. Some days they didn’t, and some they did. Fortunately, after having conduct this experiment, I can say that I actually enjoyed it for the most part. Waiting around for something to happen is never fun, but looking back after having collected out data, I can say that I enjoyed conducting this field study. It was defiantly a much more engaging way of learning about the worms’ impact on an ecosystem than sitting in a classroom and doing a reading or being lectured. As a result of doing this study, my opinions of field science changed drastically. As it turns out, doing field science is a lot more crucial than I expected at first, and at times even exciting.