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TRAINING EARTHWORMS

On a tray, we are going to build a cardboard T-maze with walls 3 inches high. On the alley of the T, that is to say the longer, lower part of the T, we'll make a cardboard shelter, which will be a resting place for our earthworm. It will have a roof, so it will be dark. The shelter will be a removable box-shape, because we need to move it around. The tray will be placed so that its short side is at the front of the counter-top, so that the T runs the length of the long side of the tray. The arms of the T will be running left and right. The alley of the T is named "A," the left arm is "B," the right arm is "C."

We are going to train the worm to find its way to the shelter, after we move the shelter. The first time, we'll put it at the end of "C." Since the worm is no longer in the dark, it will start to move. Look at the second hand on the clock, and make a note of the exact time that we take the shelter away from our worm. When the worm finds its way to the shelter, again note the exact time, so we know how long it takes for the worm to get there.

If the worm doesn't get to the shelter after a few minutes, put the shelter back, and put the worm into it. Then, start again.

A histogram can be made, showing the times expended during each trial. See if it takes less time for the worm to find the shelter after he has done it once.

Earthworms aren't very smart, and it may take him several trials to get the idea. Once the worm learns how to find the shelter, there are other experiments we can make, using the T-maze.

We can try it with several earthworms (not all at once), and time them, to see if some are faster learners than others. Then we can isolate the faster learners from the slower learners, and give each group a container of rich soil in which they can breed. Then, when the baby worms are ready to travel, we'll try some from each group, and try to determine whether fast learners breed faster learners, or not. We'll also try the slow learners' offspring, and see if they are as slow as, or slower than their parents.

Actually, we could have a race, just for fun, by putting several worms into the shelter at the same time, then move the shelter. Perhaps we could mark each worm with a dot of food coloring so we can tell which one won.

Here's another experiment. We'll put a trained worm into the shelter at "A." We'll soak a paper towel in vinegar, and place it at the end of arm "C." Let's pick up the shelter and move it to the end of "C" where the vinegar-soaked towel is. We're going to try to find out if the worm can learn to be directed by scent. Let's see if the worm appears to smell the vinegar before he touches the paper. Also, we want to determine how long it takes him to learn the new location of the shelter. If it takes a shorter amount of time than it takes to find it without a scent to follow, that means that the worm is associating the shelter with the scent. We can then dilute the vinegar with water, so it doesn't smell so strongly, and try to determine whether the worm comes to the scent as rapidly as it did when it was stronger.

We can try other scents, such as salt, by dissolving one teaspoon of salt in three teaspoons water, then soaking a towel in it. We also can crush some pine needles in water and soak the towel in the pine scent.

For a third experiment, let's put a three-inch length of rough cloth in arm "C" where the shelter is, to see if the worm would crawl over it to get to the shelter. Or, we could use crushed ice for a barrier. The program suggests sandpaper, but it seems that could damage the worm's skin if he were to travel across it.

In experimenting with any kind of animal, we must keep in mind that their intelligence is of a different sort than ours. We can't expect animals to think like we do, or to care about the same kinds of things that we do.

 
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