Life on the planet relies on the soil and the particles which are found in it to grow our food and keep our water clean. However, animals often eat soil to supplement their mineral intake and help boost immunity.
Many animals eat dirt and soil such as termites, dung, beetles, bats, and earthworms. Larger animals eat soil to prevent ailments associated with mineral deficiencies while small organisms like worms and microbes live within the soil, borrowing and providing aeration, nutrients, and minerals for plants to thrive.
Let’s discuss why soil is vital for our ecosystem and what makes it beneficial especially for animals.
What Animals Eats Dirt:
Soil is a material composed of five ingredients — minerals, soil organic matter, living organisms, gas, and water. It provides a medium for plants to grow and a mineral source for animals.
Did you know that there are animals that like to eat dirt or soil?
These animals are:
Additionally, smaller organisms also inhibit the dirt making it their home.
The soil provides protection as well as a food source for them to thrive while at the same time returning nutrients back to the soil for plants to use.
Some of these Smaller organisms are:
Going even smaller in the scale of things (too small for the naked eye) are microbes:
The most common microbes in the soil are:
- Soil algae, and
Key Points to note about microbes in the soil are:
- They play a key role in making soil able to function properly within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries.
- They sustain plant and animal productivity.
- They maintain and enhance the quality of air, water, and decomposing organic matter which leads to the production of essential nutrients for soil.
Following are the two species which are known as farmers friends are well known for the benefits which are provided by these species to the soil so, following are those species:
Ecosystem engineers, farmer’s friends, and much more names are given to them and there are multiple reasons for it because they provide significant benefits to the soil.
From making soil able to function, to increase soil aeration, and from infiltration to nutrient cycling, and from water moment to plant growth these earthworms have become very vital for the health of plants and soil.
They burrow into the soil which creates pathways for elements like water, oxygen, to infiltrate the ground and for other compounds, like carbon dioxide, to leave.
As they maneuver their way through the dirt, they also assist dead animals and plants to decompose and provide important nutrients to become absorbed through the roots of living plants, and this is then digested by the animals that eat those plants.
Some researchers call earthworms ‘nature’s plows’ because they mix organic matter from dead organisms into the soil.
The microscopic, single-celled organisms like Bacteria and Fungi are known as microbes.
However, most people think that these microbes are infectious and are found in dust, dirt and cause disease but few people know how beneficial these microbes are for our environment and ecosystem.
In fact, microbes keep our nature neat and clean by breaking down the dead plants and animals into organic matter.
Moreover, they are also farmer-friendly because they help them increase yield and protect crops and they can also improve livestock health, growth, and feed utilization.
Besides this, they are also very advantageous for water as they increase wastewater treatment, efficiency and optimize healthy water quality in aquaculture.
How do Earthworms Benefit the Soil?
There are multiple benefits of these Earthworms such as:
- They increase soil aeration, infiltration, structure, nutrient cycling, water movement, and plant growth.
- Earthworms are one of the major decomposers of organic matter. They get their nutrition from microorganisms that live on organic matter and in soil material.
- Earthworms increase the fertility of soil because they contain, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Magnesium.
- The cast in the Earthworms also contains microorganisms which increase in multiple numbers as organic matter and the increase in microorganisms facilitates plant growth.
- When the casts and binding agents are released by the earthworms thus improving the structure and stability of soil.
One of the major decomposers of organic matter is earthworms because they get their nutrition from microorganisms that live on organic matter and in soil material.
They are those burrowers that move through the soil eating, earthworms from channels and these wholes increase soil porosity by lowering bulk density and increasing root development.
How do Microbes Benefit the Soil?
Following are the benefits provided by microbes to the soil:
- They play a vital role in the nutrient cycles that are vital to the life of the planet.
- These microbes increase the fertility of soil by incorporating air, minerals, and nitrogenous compounds.
- They also facilitate plant growth because they provide essential elements, minerals that plants are unable to consume on their own.
- These microbes are also responsible for the decomposition of organic matter which is very important for providing nutrients to the plants.
- Microbes also protect plants from stress and feed them by converting and holding nutrients in the soil.
- Many beneficial microbes’ foam symbiotic relations with plants.
- Bacteria is the vital workforce of soil as they are the final stage of breaking down nutrients and releasing them to the root zone of plants.
Other Animals that Can be Found in Garden Soil:
There are many animals and microbes found in the soil so here are few examples:
These were once classified as Fungi, and act similarly in the soil.
Although some of them are predators and harmful for the plants but some live in the soil and act as antibiotics for the plant.
The way bacteria live in the root zone of the plant and helps them to make nutrients available to the plant same as there is a fungus named Mycorrhizae that facilitate water and nutrient uptake by the roots and plants to provide sugars, amino acids, and other nutrients.
These are those larger microbes that love to be surrounded by Bacteria.
The nutrients eaten by bacteria are released in the soil when protozoa eat them.
The organisms which live around and inside plants are known as Nematodes.
Like Actinomycetes some of them are predators and harmful and some are beneficial as they eat pathogenic nematodes and secreting nutrients to the plants.
How are Minerals and animals beneficial to soil:
As soil is the major source of nutrients for maintaining the health of plants. The three major nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
This trio is known as NPK.
In addition to this, Other important nutrients are calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
An essential element for the growth of plants.
Phosphorus assists in transferring energy from sunlight to plants, it also stimulates early root and plant growth.
It boosts the immunity of plants and helps to move starches, oils, and sugars in plants and they also improve the quality of fruits.
Beneficial animals of soil:
The most important animals in this group are mites, collembola (or springtails), and nematodes.
The macrofauna contains the largest soil animals such as earthworms, beetles, and termites. Generally, the most common soil animals are protozoa, nematodes, mites, and collembola
For the life and planet to be healthy, healthy soil is necessary and the elements which make healthy soil are animals, microbes, and minerals such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, earthworms, bacteria, and fungi, etc.
Earthworms and microbes which eat dirt and soil are very necessary for soil because they increase the fertility of the soil by incorporating air, minerals, and nitrogenous compounds and decomposes organic matter which leads to the supply of nutrients to the soil which is very necessary for the better and healthy soil.
As it is said that the dirt-eating microbes and animals are harmful to plants but they are the ones that maintain the fertility and quality of soil by providing various benefits to the soil.