A reader asked us an interesting question the other day: “do worms move underneath paved streets and sidewalks?” Worms are fairly ubiquitous in soil, and since there is often soil underneath concrete and asphalt, perhaps it is the case that there are worms living beneath the foundation of cities. Below we explore this question a bit, offering some speculation based on other things we know about worms.
The reader specifically asked if there is “literature discussing this matter,” and our research into the issue didn’t turn up much. Of course, this isn’t to say that the topic isn’t covered somewhere, but evidently (and not surprisingly) it isn’t a very popular or widely discussed question. For this reason, we can’t offer any sweeping statements about the matter that are based on definitive studies, but again we are at least able to draw inferences based on other facts about worms.
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The presence of worms under streets and sidewalks presumably depends on what kind of streets and sidewalks we are talking about. If these paved surfaces are in fairly remote areas where soil is nearby, then worms almost certainly find their way into the soil that is beneath the concrete or asphalt. If worms are living in the soil surrounding a parking lot, for example, it is hard to imagine that the worms completely avoid ever crawling beneath the edges of the parking lot. So, at least in some limited instances, it seems very likely that worms move around beneath paved surfaces.
However, perhaps our reader is thinking on a larger scale, and is wondering if there are worms moving around beneath him when he stands on a street in the middle of a town or city. Although we can’t be certain, we doubt there is much worm life beneath massive paved expanses. For one thing, even though worms spend the majority of their time crawling through soil, they do surface with some regularity, like at night or after it rains, and thus they would want to live in an environment that renders this possible. The question of rain in particular raises interesting questions because living under a paved surface could lead to two opposite problems. First, a paved surface could make the soil beneath it extremely dry, thereby making it inhospitable to worms, who must remain moist to breathe through their skin. However, if the pavement has cracks in it, the soil might get enough moisture, but this could lead to problems for the earthworms too, as they are susceptible to drowning if the soil is saturated with water. If the worms couldn’t surface and the soil remained saturated, this might kill off the worms beneath it. And apart from issues that could cause problems for worms in particular, it is worth noting that the soil underneath paved surfaces tends to be quite lifeless. The leachate seeping from concrete will throw off natural pH levels in the soil, for instance, and no organic compost will be added to soil beneath paved surfaces. Basically, soil underneath something like concrete is pretty barren, and thus it wouldn’t be a place where one is likely to find worms.
So, it seems plausible that worms are occasionally crawling beneath paved surfaces, but in general there probably aren’t worms living beneath streets and sidewalks. Hopefully this answers our reader’s question, even if we weren’t able to point to any specific literature.
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