Letters: Darwin's Earthworms

Listeners respond to the story on Charles Darwin and earthworms. Melissa Block and Robert Siegel read from listeners' e-mails.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now to your e-mails. Several of you wrote to take issue with something I said in my conversation yesterday with our science correspondent Joe Palca. We were talking about Charles Darwin's interest in earthworms and in particular, one of Darwin's experiments that involved having his son play the bassoon to an earthworm. The idea was to discover if the worm could hear a sound. Apparently, the answer is no, and I described this as a little experiment that failed.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Not so, according to Jeff Kelso(ph) of Richmond, Virginia. He writes this: The experiment did not fail. It showed that worms do not appear to be able to hear the sound of a bassoon. A failed experiment would have been if one his bassoon reeds splintered, and he couldn't play for the little critters.

BLOCK: Well, Susan Bruxfort Lipscomb(ph) had a different problem with our story: the implication that Darwin was the first person to recognize the value of earthworms.

SIEGEL: In fact, she writes, Gilbert White, an 18th century clergyman-naturalist, wrote in 1789: Earthworms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. Worms probably provide new soil for hills and slopes where the rain washes the earth away. Ms. Bruxfort Lipscomb goes on to note that Darwin read White's master work, "The Natural History of Selborne," as a child, and that he mentions it in his autobiography.

BLOCK: Well, if you think we have openedup a can of worms, we want to hear from you. Please visit npr.org and click Contact Us at the top of the page.

(Soundbite of bassoon)

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