A student reader recently asked us if we knew of any species of worm that can survive in lateritic soil. If we don’t know of any worms with this ability, she wonders if there is another species of decomposer that can.
Lateritic soil is also known as laterite, and it is soil that is produced by the decomposition of the rocks beneath it. This soil gets its red coloring from the high iron oxide content, and is usually found in hot and tropical places. Laterite soils are usually found under the topsoil in the subsoil layer. In addition to being a soil, laterite can also refer to a rock type. Lateritic rocks have been cut into bricks and used for constructing monuments in India in the past.
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Lateritic soils are generally thin and lack nutrients, which make them a tough environment for living things. There are select plants that could be tolerant of such a tough environment, but there are no animal species that we are aware of that could live in such conditions.
There is some speculation that earthworms can survive in harsh, low-moisture environments by entering a state known as estivation. During estivation, earthworms wrap their bodies into a tight knot to minimize their surface area and to seal themselves in a humid chamber. However, this study occurred in the drought-laden soils in the Western Unite State, not in characteristic laterite.
So, to answer our reader’s question, we do not know of any species of worm of other decomposer that can survive in lateritic soil. This does not mean that there is not species of worm or other animal that could live there, we are simply uninformed on the matter. If any of our other readers, perhaps those who excel at geology, know more about laterite we invite them to share their knowledge in the comment section of this post.
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