DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
A group of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris photographed in early winter in Norfolk, UK. Earthworms are beneficial animals due to their mode of feeding; they swallow soil and digest any organic material it contains, excreting the mineral component. This results in aeration of the soil and the lightening of its structure. Charles Darwin estimated that earthworms produce more than twenty tonnes of "worm casts" - excreted soil - per hectare per year. L. terrestris normally lives in deep burrows, into which characteristically it draws fallen leaves. It is the largest UK earthworm, and can live for up to 10 years in captivity. In nature it is prey to birds, shrews and hedgehogs. This picture shows several individuals of L. terrestris that have found their way into a plastic bag filled with fallen leaves. The animals are accelerating the process of turning the leaves into leaf mould.
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