London: Believe it or not, the humble earthworm has become the latest secret weapon in the war against climate change.
A major four-year-old study has revealed that instead of just wriggling around and providing food for birds, earthworms - have been burrowing their way through the ground for 300 million years - can help prevent flooding and droughts.
Floods and droughts are caused by cycles of dry weather and monsoon-type rains often said to be caused by global warming. And this is where the humble earthworm can help the planet, say researchers at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Society in the UK.
The average worm weighs less than half an ounce but it is able to eat through a third of its own weight in soil a day. When worms tunnel the soil absorbs more water, meaning that in their millions, worms can turn the ground into one vast sponge soaking up water in floods but retaining it during dry spells.
Now, farmers can play a vital part in combating the devastation caused by floods and droughts by encouraging earthworms, according to the researchers.
"Our research shows that farmers can make a huge difference in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. When fields are not ploughed, the soil condition is improved naturally by the tunnelling of earthworms, which absorb water at a rate of four to 10 times that of fields which are without worm tunnels.
"This in turn helps the soil to take up water during storms and to retain it during drought. It also helped to buffer our stream from flooding during heavy rain, Dr Chris Stoate, Head of research at the society's Allerton Project farm said.

One of the key recommendations in the study is for farmers to cut back on traditional ploughing to harness the power of the army of the eco-friendly microbes and earthworms that live in the soil.
This then increases the capacity of the ground to take up water during storms and then to retain it during droughts.
The worm has proven to be one of nature's great survivors and also to be a vital player in the environment, breaking down soil, recycling nutrients and being an important part of the farmland food chain. Birds as varied as buzzards, owls, and kestrels all feed on worms.
Some worms can live 10 years and although they have no teeth, arms, eyes and legs they can move 27 feet per hour underground.