Pharyngula

Lair of the White Worm

i-caea56aed973524292bb73fd7043ee3a-palouse_worm.jpg

I never heard of this before: there exists a rare, giant, albino earthworm in the scrub prairies of the Palouse. It grows to be 3 feet long, and smells like lilies.

I scarcely believed it myself—that’s also Sasquatch country out there, you know—so I had to look it up. The Giant Palouse Earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) is real. They’re so rare, though, that one hasn’t been spotted in almost 20 years…until last year. A new specimen was found, and unfortunately, fixed in formaldehyde right away. I thought this quote was a little sad.

Unlike the celebration touched off by last year’s sighting in Arkansas of the ivory-billed woodpecker—a bird not seen in 60 years and thought to be extinct—the giant earthworm Sanchez-de Leon found last year already has been consigned to a jar of formaldehyde.

“Realistically, the giant Palouse earthworm is a lot less charismatic than a giant woodpecker,” said James “Ding” Johnson, head of the University of Idaho’s Department of Plant, Soil and Entomology Sciences.

My apologies to GrrlScientist, but I’d much rather see a giant white worm than some boring old bird.

Comments

  1. #1 GrrlScientist
    May 28, 2006

    that thang looks exactly like something i found in my tequila last night! don’t tell me i’ve been sucking down possibly endangered species while questing for that elusive affordable “high”.

    incidentally, of all the peeps who write for SB, only you, PZ, could convince me to create my very own (hated) typekey account so i could comment here!

  2. #2 windy
    May 28, 2006

    Who is still using formaldehyde? Can’t even get DNA out of it after that. At least let the worm go in style, in alcohol. Or just take half of the worm and release the other half? 🙂

  3. #3 Caledonian
    May 28, 2006

    Quite seriously, why was this specimen immediately killed? I’d think a captive breeding program would be in order — with earthworms, that might be possible, even with a breeding population of one.

  4. #4 CCC
    May 28, 2006

    This critter must not be real – there’s no wikipedia page on it.
    But seriously though, I was surprised – usually something with this level of coolness would have a page.

  5. #5 Monimonika
    May 28, 2006

    giant, albino earthworm

    Am I the only one who thought “El Blanco the Graboid!”?

  6. #6 Jim Anderson
    May 28, 2006

    There are even bigger worms in Australia. And, PZ, if the Palouse is Sasquatch country, then Barry Bonds plays for the Dodgers.

  7. #7 Tsiatko
    May 28, 2006

    There’s also the Oregon Giant Worm who seems to be related:

    http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200303/worms.asp

  8. #8 ceejayoz
    May 28, 2006

    CCC, there’s now a Wikipedia article on it. Feel free to improve my stub!

  9. #9 Maladroit
    May 28, 2006

    PZ, go find the book The Earth Moved, by Amy Stewart (I see they have some discount copies at Amazon right now). An excellent book about the earthworm, and it includes some stuff on the giant worms. And I imagine the reason this one was preserved is because they don’t regenerate when damaged; instead, they die. The researcher dug it up, probably an accident, and was unlikely able to perform CPR.

    D

  10. #10 Ronald Brak
    May 29, 2006

    Arr! There she borrows! The white worm! The whiiiiite worrrrrrrm!

  11. #11 Ronald Brak
    May 29, 2006

    The neat thing about going fishing in Australia is that after you’ve done digging up worms for bait you can go straight home because you’ve already got plenty to eat.

  12. #12 idlemind
    May 29, 2006

    The neat thing about going fishing in Australia is that after you’ve done digging up worms for bait you can go straight home because you’ve already got plenty to eat.

    Now, that’s got to be one meat that doesn’t “taste just like chicken.”

  13. #13 CCC
    May 29, 2006

    great job on the article, ceejayoz!

  14. #14 Caledonian
    May 29, 2006

    And I imagine the reason this one was preserved is because they don’t regenerate when damaged; instead, they die.

    Really? Fascinating – in my ignorance, I’d imagined regeneration was something of a universal trait with earthworms. (It certainly seems to have stood standard earthworms in good stead, protecting them not only from bird attacks but plowing.)

    Is that related to why this variety is endangered?

  15. #15 Keith Douglas
    May 29, 2006

    Did anyone else think of that silly movie franchise, Tremors, when they read this?

    3 foot earthworms? Do these ones have several hearts like I seem to remember the common sorts having?

  16. #16 Monimonika
    May 29, 2006

    Keith, see my prior comment (the fifth one from the top) ^_~

  17. Giant worms, eh? So, when you drown them, do you make a magic elixir called “the Water of Life” that allows women to get in touch with their feminine sides … lots of them?

    Might explain why they were so quick to get that one under liquid …

  18. #19 John Emerson
    May 29, 2006
  19. #20 Maladroit
    May 29, 2006

    I imagine plowing could be a reason, but also the wholesale change of environment. We (this is a generalization, I know) tend to think of our environment as starting where we can see it, but it of course goes deep beneath our feet. And the earthworms we are most familiar with are an invader species, which does better in an agricultural setting.

    D

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