Even today, we are finding out new things about worms all the time. Although we have shared the planet with these little creatures for centuries, there is still so much that we do not understand about them, including about how or even if they feel or have feelings.
While humans, mammals and reptiles, for example, all experience different feelings and emotions, we perhaps disregard the simple worms that we see burrowing around in the soil.
Yes, worms do have feelings. But, how can we actually tell if that is the case – and how do we really know for sure?
Can worms feel emotions?
Whether or not animals can feel emotions has been a point of contention between philosophers, scientists and the general population for centuries.
While some argue that yes, all animals do indeed feel emotions as much as we humans do, others argue that no, animals do not have the ability to think or feel in the same way that we humans do.
Thankfully, largely people have come around to the idea that animals do feel emotions and display them constantly.
Nowadays, that conversation has turned more towards insects and other small creatures that roam the earth.
As they do not have distinct facial features such as a smile, eyelids, eyebrows, etc., it is more difficult to discern whether or not they feel emotions truly.
This becomes even more difficult when we discuss earthworms.
Beyond lacking smiles and eyelids, they do not have faces. They have no eyes, noses, ears, etc. But ever wondered, if they have mouths or not?
They do not make sounds either, making it even more challenging to know what or if they are feeling.
Can Worms Feel When They Are Physically Hurt?
The best that we can tell is that when they are physically hurt, they do jerk about.
Some take this as proof that they can definitely feel pain, whereas others still argue that these are just their muscles spasming as a reaction to the effects on their bodies.
Worms feel pain – though it can depend on how you define pain – but there will always be some deterrent in their nervous systems to prevent worms from getting hurt.
When worms experience pain, much like many other animals, there is a flight response generated by their simple nervous system.
However, a scientific study funded by the Norwegian government appeared to find that worms squiriming on a fishing hook don’t necessarily feel pain. The jury is out.
Do earthworms feel love?
We know that earthworms have offspring, just like all animals. As parental affection is the most natural form of love, it is only natural to wonder whether or not earthworms can feel love.
Many of us have seen videos online of elephants, lions, monkeys, etc., sacrificing for their children and risking their own lives to protect them.
They also show significant signs of heartbreaking emotion if they lose their child.
However, barely any of us have had the opportunity to notice how earthworms react with their offspring.
So, how do earthworms treat their children? Do they recognize them? Do they treat them with affection or with ignorance?
According to researchers at the University of Southhampton, the National Infection Service, Porton Down, and KU Leuven in Belgium, worms do indeed show signs of parental affection.
During their research, they discovered that despite the fact that adult worms have to compete for their food with the surrounding creatures, including their own offspring, once they notice that the food supply is becoming limited, they begin to ration their intake leaving more food behind for their offspring.
The research proves that the worms react this way due to a hormone called nematocin. As it happens, this hormone is the ancestor of the human hormone oxytocin, also known as the love hormone.
Therefore, this could prove that not only do worms recognise and care for their children, but they could also very well feel love.
Do earthworms feel fear?
We know that earthworms use their receptors to detect uncomfortable environments and predators alike.
If they believe that a predator is close, earthworms will leave their burrows to find safety, usually on the soil’s surface (avoiding moles most of all).
Various noxious stimuli, of course, will encourage worms to take evasive action.
This could be direct proof that earthworms do indeed feel fear, although some would suggest that this is simply due to their survival instinct.
They have much different, yet simple nervous systems compared to our own.
Watch an earthworm getting afraid of salt that is spread around it:
In conclusion, we have very good reasons to believe that worms do indeed feel emotions.
Of course, even with the current research, it will never be easy for us humans to understand what exactly a worm is feeling at any given time.
That being said, knowing that they feel pain, or even suspecting it, should be reason enough to treat these little creatures with the utmost respect and care that we as humans would expect to be treated with.