- Earthworms clear fallen leaves and Darwin called them ‘Nature’s ploughs’
- How they do it was a mystery as chemicals in leaves make them poisonous
- Research shows they produce chemical in their guts called drilodefensins
- This allows their gut to break up the poison like dishwasher fluid breaks up stains on a plate
By Colin Fernandez|Mail Online
Earthworms have got one of the toughest diets around – munching through fallen leaves and roots that other animals simply cannot stomach.
Without them fallen leaves would pile up – but worms chew them up and return them to the soil, keeping it fertile.
It is no wonder that Charles Darwin called them ‘nature’s ploughs’.
But until now scientists had no idea how they managed to pull off the trick.
Research on the wriggling creatures has found they produce a chemical in their guts called drilodefensins that counteract the polyphenols.
Polyphenols – chemicals in leaves – are poisonous to many creatures which help stop them being eaten.
Lead scientist Dr Jake Bundy, from Imperial College London, said: ‘Without drilodefensins, fallen leaves would remain on the surface of the ground for a very long time, building up to a thick layer. Our countryside would be unrecognisable’.