I recently opened my compost exposing a huge tangle of worms: good news for the state of my compost but slightly repulsive. I feared for their future but a few hours later they had disappeared….presumably back to work munching my vegetable peelings.

I wondered about why and how creatures gather together sometimes in huge numbers and also how these worms separated themselves out.

Most people are familiar with the murmurations of starlings and the beautiful patterns they make in winter skies when about to roost for the night. It seems each starling copies the behaviour of it’s seven neighbours and so on until the whole group moves as one. They twist and turn in order to confuse and deter large predators, such as hawks. A by-product is the stunning visual display we marvel at.

Forming groups of up to 100,000 also creates a really warm roost in the coldest months. Just as small garden birds will huddle together in a nest box in huge numbers on winter nights.

Twenty-five per cent of the worlds’ fish have a habit of shoaling. Schools of fish swim more efficiently as friction is reduced and this conserves energy. It also improves foraging success and protects from predators. It is mainly smaller species that do this but also some larger fish such as tuna. Although when you think about images of vast numbers of small fish being hoovered up whales one wonders whether it is such a good idea. Whales can eat up to four tons of krill at a time!

Back in the garden: snails are solitary by nature but they can often be found hibernating in large groups under flower pots. In hotter, arid countries they gather together to keep cool and moist. This is called estivating. They can remain dormant for months sealing their shells to preserve moisture.

Like many of the other creatures mentioned the worms too are probably gathering for warmth or mutual protection from either conditions which are too warm or too cold. Although that hardly seems to fit with Addingham compost in September!

Scientists have been investigating worms ‘blobs’ for years trying to understand how it takes them minutes to tangle but milliseconds to untangle. They say “knots and tangles are where physics and mechanics meet maths”. Each worm wriggles in a special corkscrew motion, twisting head and tail in opposite directions enabling them to disentangle so quickly.

Next time I find a mass in my compost I will hang around and film them untangling, for the sake of science!