Not wanting the Centipede and the Earthworm to argue again, James asks the Earthworm if he makes music. The Earthworm says he doesn’t, but he does other amazing things. He tells James that next time he stands in a field or garden, James should remember that every bit of soil has recently passed through an earthworm. James is disbelieving, but the Earthworm says proudly that he and other earthworms swallow soil “like mad.” When James asks why they’d do this, the Earthworm says they help farmers. Swallowing soil makes the soil better for plants, so the farmers love earthworms. He suggests that farmers love earthworms even more than they love ladybugs.
Turning to the Earthworm to avoid a fight speaks to James’s growing maturity. Further, he’s acting on the Old-Green-Grasshopper’s advice to always be ready to learn something new by asking the Earthworm what he does. Even though James can’t fathom why anyone would swallow soil, he still remains open to the Earthworm’s explanations. Through this, James becomes more accepting of difference and learns the value of approaching new habits with curiosity instead of suspicion.
James turns to the Ladybug and asks if the farmers love her as well. Shyly, the Ladybug says that she’s heard farmers love ladybugs so much that they buy live ladybugs to release. Ladybugs eat the pesky insects that destroy farmers’ crops, and they do it all for free. James says this is wonderful, but he has one question: can a person tell how old a ladybug is by counting spots? The Ladybug explains that that’s just a myth; in reality, the number of spots on a ladybug tells which family she belongs to. She’s a Nine-Spotted Ladybug, which is a great family branch. Two-Spotted Ladybugs are ill-mannered, while Five-Spotted Ladybugs are a bit nicer, but “saucy.” However, the Ladybug says, everyone loves ladybugs, no matter how many spots they have.
Now, James is getting the hang of approaching others with curiosity and a desire to understand. And even more importantly, he starts to question whether things he thought were true are actually true. This is why he asks if it’s possible to tell how old a ladybug is by her spots. Even though the Ladybug insists it’s inappropriate and incorrect to make the assumption that one can gauge a ladybug’s age, there nevertheless are assumptions one can make about a ladybug due to her spots. But no matter what a ladybug’s personality is, she’s still a beloved member of her community.
The Centipede notes proudly that he’s a pest; nobody loves him. James asks Miss Spider whether people love her. She sighs as she says that nobody loves her, even though she spends her days catching flies and mosquitoes in her web. Spiders, she says, are treated unfairly. Just last week, Aunt Sponge flushed Miss Spider’s father down the bathtub drain. Miss Spider begins to cry. James looks around and asks if it’s true that it’s unlucky to kill a spider. The Centipede says it’s very unlucky—Aunt Sponge died after flushing Miss Spider’s father. Miss Spider agrees that feeling the bump of Aunt Sponge was very satisfying and asks the Centipede for a song.
It’s not uncommon for people to be afraid of spiders, which Miss Spider shows is a big problem. By having Miss Spider—a giant talking spider—tell this story, Dahl encourages readers to recognize that being afraid of spiders (or people) isn’t an excuse to hurt, kill, or think poorly of them. For that matter, it’s possible that when someone acts on their prejudice, they’ll one day suffer for it. This is, according to the Centipede, why Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker died—they were horrible people who got their comeuppance.
The Centipede sings a song about how fat Aunt Sponge was. He sings that she decided to make herself “sleek as a cat,” but the peach made her thinner than any diet would have. Miss Spider loves the song and asks for one about Aunt Spiker. With a grin, the Centipede sings that Aunt Spiker was thin enough to use her as a fire poker. He sings that Aunt Spiker wanted to gain weight, so she vowed to eat marshmallows and chocolate—but the peach “ironed her out on the lawn” instead. Everyone claps. The Centipede sings his favorite song, but James interrupts and shouts for the Centipede to look out.
Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge’s bodies are so far outside the norm that to James, they seem absurd. While the preoccupation with making fun of the aunts’ bodies might be grating for modern readers, within the world of the novel, their absurd body shapes make them more humorous and less villainous.