After a couple of e-mails regarding earthworm dissection, I have decided for the better good of our planet to address the subject. The thought of killing an earthworm is not one I like to entertain but if it does give us a better understanding of these incredible creatures then some good will come of it.
Having never carried out a dissection myself I have engaged the services of a great web site. Home Science Tools which is where I found this helpful guide to dissecting an earthworm.
Earthworms are important helpers in the garden or field! Their tunneling mixes up the soil and brings rich soil to the surface. You can observe the organs of these tiny creatures by dissecting a preserved earthworm.
Observation: External Anatomy Of Earthworm
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1. Find the anterior (front) end of the earthworm by locating the fleshy bump over its mouth, called the prostomium. The posterior (back) end has a small hole where solid waste is expelled, called the anus. The length of the worm is made up of many tiny segments, each separated by a thin wall called a septum.
2. About one-third of the way back from the mouth you should see a thicker and smoother section of the worm. This is called the clitellum, and it is involved in reproduction.
3. Notice that the earthworm has a rounded dorsal (back) surface and a flatterventral (belly) surface. Usually the dorsal surface is darker than the ventral surface (though sometimes this is obscured in the preservation process). Lightly rub your finger along the ventral side toward the posterior end of the worm. You should feel a roughness caused by tiny bristles called setae. Using a magnifying glass, try to see the setae.
4. With your magnifying glass look for tiny pores on each segment. Liquid wastes are expelled through these pores. Near the front end of the worm you should see some larger pores that can be easily seen without magnification. These are genital pores and are important in reproduction.
Dissection: Internal Anatomy Of Earthworm
1. Lay the worm on your dissecting tray with its dorsal side facing up. Use dissection pins to secure each end on the tray. Start your dissection about an inch posterior to the clitellum. Lift up the skin with a pair of forceps and snip an opening with a pair of dissecting scissors. Insert the scissors into the opening and cut in a straight line all the way up through the mouth. Go slowly and be sure to cut just the skin–if you go too deep you may damage the internal organs.
2. Using the forceps and dissection pins, carefully pull apart the two flaps of skin and pin them flat on the tray. (You may need to drag a pin along the inside of the skin to sever the septum walls to make it easier to spread the skin.)
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3. Look at the labeled picture to help you find the following features:
- Pharynx: This is the light-colored organ just inside the mouth. Its muscular contractions pass food on down to the esophagus.
- Hearts (or “aortic arches”): Behind the pharynx are five dark loops wrapped around the esophagus. These are the blood vessels that serve as the hearts of the worm.
- Dorsal blood vessel: This is a dark line extending from the hearts over the top of the crop.
- Crop: Food from the esophagus is temporarily stored in the crop.
- Gizzard: Food comes from the crop into the gizzard, where it is ground up.
- Intestine: The intestine is the long tube extending from the gizzard all the way to the anus. Food is digested and absorbed here.
- Reproductive organs: The light colored tissue above and around the hearts are seminal vesicles.Other reproductive parts appear as small white organs on the ventral side of the hearts.
- Ventral Nerve Cord: With your forceps, gently push aside the intestine to view the long white nerve cord running along the length of the worm beneath it.
4. Optional: Finish cutting the rest of the worm open from the first incision through to the anus. Observe how the intestine and ventral nerve cord both continue through the entire length of the worm.
Earthworm Dissection Products
To help with the earthworm dissection I have found some products that will make the process a whole lot easier, just click on an image to learn more about it.
High Quality Preserved Earthworm that has been prepared in the U.S.
Enclosed in a bag with holding solution. (Not Formaldehyde)
Fluid in the bag in normal and OK.
Store at room temperature in sealed bag.
Best if used within 9 months of purchase.
Normal household disposal – NOT a Biohazard.
This is a complete set – INCLUDING SPECIMEN, GUIDE, TOOLS and SUPPLIES
- Carolina’s Perfect Solution® specimens are also ideal for homeschool use. The specimens are safe and nontoxic, which means you need no special ventilation and there’s no costly disposal.
- For a class of 30. Introduces students to the anatomy of the earthworm, a representative annelid. Kit includes 30 Carolina’s Perfect Solution(r) earthworms, 30 self-locking storage bags, and a teacher’s manual with blackline masters for reproducible student guides.
Earthworm Anatomy Model – For the teacher who understands the importance of using quality, detailed models to support their lessons, but doesn’t want to mortgage the lab in order to acquire one – this well-made, economy Earthworm Anatomy model is the way to go. Of special note: this model is of the earthworm family Pheretima rather than the more common Lumbricus. External structures shown include: segments, intersegmental grooves, clitellum, peristomium, female pore, male pores, and spermathecal orifices. Internal structures shown include: body wall, muscles, septa, coelom, digestive system, circulatory system, female and male productive systems, and nervous system. — Size: 59 x 19 x 21cm
- Learn all about the life-cycle and habitats of worms
- Study basic dissection techniques
- Enjoy informative video and graphics
- Classical Relief of the Anterior Portion of the Earthworm!
- Shows Internal Organs and Systems Representative of Primitive Invertegrates!
- Clearly Illustrates the Body in Cross Section!
- Enhances or Replaces the use of Animal Specimens in the Classroom!
- Includes Model, Activity Notebook with Glossary, Key, Blackline Master and Color Transparency!
Want to learn all about worms? Just consult Kid Science! This interactive DVD offers a whole new way to study how an earthworm’s body works. Video and narration capture the dissection experience without all the smell and mess. You can also follow the step- by-step video instructionsto perform your own worm dissection.Features:Includes detailed descriptions with video of the external anatomy and major internal organs of an earthwormCovers important terms and basic dissection techniquesA handy guide to dissection tools how to care for them and use them safelySpecifications:Language: EnglishFormat: Color full-frame stereo sound NTSCEncoding: All regions This DVD is Compatible with all NTSC playersRating: UnratedSubtitles: NoneOther Features: Interactive menusApproximate Runtime: 21 minutes. Ages 9 and up.
Most of the dissection kits contain ready to used preserved earthworms and you will notice I have included products that do not require the death of a single earthworms to learn about dissection…Yay. So what ever way you decide to learn about earthworm anatomy for yourself or to help the kids, learning more on how earthworms function will greatly improve your understanding of the humble earthworm.