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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stalking the Giant Earthworm

Only four giant Palouse earthworms have been found in the last 100 years — so scientists are dousing the worms with hot mustard and shocking them with electricity.

Those are the two main tricks of Palouse worm hunters, who’ve recently taken to the field in an effort to dig up information about a species so rare that the Bush administration wouldn’t declare them endangered. Not enough was known, they said.

Environmentalists hope the Obama administration will be more sympathetic. But whatever happens, they’ll need to know more about the worm. Leading the effort is University of Idaho soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard, who explained their techniques to

The simplest way of finding the earthworm is “hand-sorting,” a fancy name for digging them up with a shovel. That’s how one of Johnson-Maynard’s students accidentally found a giant Palouse earthworm in 2005. Unfortunately, the shovel cut the worm in half.

Hoping to avoid a repeat, Maynard-Johnson turned to a dilute solution of off-the-shelf hot mustard. “It’s an irritant that causes them to try to come up to escape it,” she said. “It works on other worms, so probably it’ll work on the Palouse. It’s thought to be more efficient at extracting larger earthworms that burrow fairly deep, like nightcrawlers, and produce very straight, downward burrows. It flows preferentially down those holes.”

link: How to Catch a Giant, Smelly, Endangered Earthworm | Wired Science |


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