The body wall of the earthworm is covered externally by a thin non-cellular cuticle below which is the epidermis, two muscle layers (circular and longitudinal) and an innermost coelomic epithelium. The epidermis is made up of a single layer of columnar epithelial cells which contain secretory gland cells.
The alimentary canal is a straight tube and runs between first to last segment of the body. A terminal mouth opens into the buccal cavity (1-3 segments) which leads into muscular pharynx. A small narrow tube, oesophagus (5-7 segments), continues into a muscular gizzard (8-9 segments). It helps in grinding the soil particles and decaying leaves, etc.
The stomach extends from 9-14 segments. The food of the earthworm is decaying leaves and organic matter mixed with soil. Calciferous glands, present in the stomach, neutralise the humic acid present in humus. Intestine starts from the 15th segment onwards and continues till the last segment.
A pair of short and conical intestinal caecae project from the intestine on the 26th segment. The characteristic feature of the intestine between 26-35 segments is the presence of internal median fold of dorsal wall called typhlosole. This increases the effective area of absorption in the intestine.
The alimentary canal opens to the exterior by a small rounded aperture called anus. The ingested organic rich soil passes through the digestive tract where digestive enzymes breakdown complex food into smaller absorbable units. These simpler molecules are absorbed through intestinal membranes and are utilised.
Pheretima exhibits a closed type of blood vascular system, consisting of blood vessels, capillaries and heart. Due to closed circulatory system, blood is confined to the heart and blood vessels. Contractions keep blood circulating in one direction. Smaller blood vessels supply the gut, nerve cord, and the body wall. Blood glands are present on the 4th, 5th and 6th segments. They produce blood cells and haemoglobin which is dissolved in blood plasma. Blood cells are phagocytic in nature.
Earthworms lack specialised breathing devices. Respiratory exchange occurs through moist body surface into their blood stream.
Sensory system does not have eyes but does possess light and touch sensitive organs (receptor cells) to distinguish the light intensities and to feel the vibrations in the ground. Worms have specialised chemoreceptors (taste receptors) which react to chemical stimuli. These sense organs are located on the anterior part of the worm.
Earthworm is hermaphrodite (bisexual), i.e., testes and ovaries are present in the same individual. There are two pairs of testes present in the 10th and 11th segments. Their vasa deferentia run up to the 18th segment where they join the prostatic duct. Two pairs of accessory glands are present one pair each in the 17th and 19th segments.
The common prostrate and spermatic duct (vary differential) opens to the exterior by a pair of male genital pores on the ventro-lateral side of the 18th segment. Four pairs of spermathecae are located in 6th-9th segments (one pair in each segment). They receive and store spermatozoa during copulation. One pair of ovaries is attached at the inter-segmental septum of the 12th and 13th segments.
Ovarian funnels are present beneath the ovaries which continue into oviduct, join together and open on the ventral side as a single median female genital pore on the 14th segment. A mutual exchange of sperm occurs between two worms during mating. One worm has to find another worm and they mate juxtaposing opposite gonadal openings exchanging packets of sperms called spermatophores.
Mature sperm and egg cells and nutritive fluid are deposited in cocoons produced by the gland cells of clitellum. Fertilisation and development occur within the cocoons which are deposited in soil. The ova (eggs) are fertilised by the sperm cells within the cocoon which then slips off the worm and is deposited in or on the soil.
The cocoon holds the worm embryos. After about 3 weeks, each cocoon produces two to twenty baby worms with an average of four. Earthworms development is direct, i.e., there is no larva formed.
Earthworms are known as ‘friends of farmers’ because they make burrows in the soil and make it porous which helps in respiration and penetration of the developing plant roots. The process of increasing fertility of soil by the earthworms is called vermicomposting. They are also used as bait in game fishing.