Giant Blue Earthworms and Friends

Via a circuitous route, prompted by a friend of Zooillogix, Tweet Gainsborough-waring, I found myself looking at the picture below.
i-f427904069c377ce92d6e964a7954bce-GiantBlueEarthworm.jpg

This otherworldly Australian earthworm, Terriswalkeris terraereginae, not only looks likes delicious candy, but the mucin it releases is luminescent, and it grows up to 2 meters long. I knew Zooillogix readers would want to know more about this fascinating critter but could find almost no information online. Luckily, Dr. Geoff Dyne, Assistant Director, Queensland Section, Australian Government Natural Research Management Team (and more importantly, earthwormologist), generously provided me with the following information about Australia's formidable Oligochaetes.

Courtesy of Dr. Dyne:

Australia is home to some of the largest earthworms in the world. This little-known zoological morsel is easily overlooked when one considers the more charismatic elements of the fauna that usually rate a mention - such as koalas and kangaroos.

Size is relative, of course; when we think of large earthworms (or terrestrial Oligochaetes), we are perhaps considering species growing in excess of 30cm or one foot or so in length. In Australia, all of these species belong to the Family Megascolecidae.

Some of these earthworms are associated with upland areas of rainforest growing on volcanic soils, such as Terriswalkeris terraereginae, found in the mountains behind Cairns in Far North Queensland. This large species is all the more striking for being a deep Prussian blue. Rarely seen, it (together with a number of the other deep-burrowing species) is occasionally exposed by road-building machinery or when heavy rain saturates the soil and forces individuals out of their burrows.

Another unusual large earthworm is Digaster keasti, known from the great sandy region in southeast Queensland, which includes Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island. It has become adapted to what would usually be regarded as a somewhat precarious, if not impossible, habitat for an earthworm - podsolised sand. These extensive sand soils are subject to desiccation in their upper layers but contain just enough humic material and deep moisture to support the existence of these remarkable animals. Digaster keasti is also bioluminescent - an interesting phenomenon exhibited by other earthworms species and which is worthy of a separate article.

The Grand-daddy of these overachieving oligochaetes is the Giant Gippsland earthworm, Megascolides australis, found in clayey soils under the banks of streams and in south or west facing hills in the Gippsland region of eastern Victoria (south-eastern Australia).
i-8eb26195c91d6fd3042a735d4708c8b0-giant gippsland earthworm.jpg
She named this big one "Bitey"

It commonly reaches a length of about 2 to 3 metres (6.5 to 10 feet), and is about 2cm (0.8 inches) in diameter when extended. The biggest specimen recorded by the National Museum of Victoria is...

(more below the fold)

...nearly 4 metres (13 feet) long. The small town of Korumburra, which is near the epicentre of the occurrence of M. australis, celebrates its unique faunal asset with an annual worm festival called Karmai (the local Aboriginal name for the species). It is reputed that when in close proximity to these animals, one can detect faint gurgling noises as they move through their burrows.

Megascolides australis also has the dubious honour of being the only earthworm to be listed under Australian national threatened species legislation, largely because of its very restricted distribution.

A few final thoughts and questions from Zooillogix:

Does anyone know if the luminescence is chemical or bacterial? (note - this was Kevin Z's first question after he got done crying over my breaking the story on this badboy).

Does anyone have a picture of Digaster keasti?

Is nuking Australia from orbit the only way to be sure?

Would love to have other earthwormologists weigh-in on these new media darlings.

Special thanks to Dr. Geoff Dyne for providing us with this fascinating information.

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Bitey?
It bites?

Tremors is for reals!

Home worm-composting would surely be so much more popular with a pair of cute luminescent blue monster worms rather than loads of little ones. These things could save the earth!

Sigmund: It's from the Simpsons where Homer ends up driving the monorail and finds possums in the fair extinguisher cabinet...

I visited Fraser Island a few years ago.....didn't see any giant earthworms though, (un?)fortunately.

So when do we get the (briefly alluded to) follow up post from the most excellent Dr. Geoff Dyne? Looks like Kevins question would have it's answer there and so many other questions...yes?

My 9 year old has always been afraid of worms (we're not even allowed to say the word; we're supposed to refer to them as "w"s), and no one in the family ever understood why. I'll have to make sure his sibs see this. Too cool...and yet gross at the same time. Imagine glow-in-the-dark compost.

You do know you can use italics, right?

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By David Marjanović (not verified) on 27 May 2008 #permalink

Imagine the size of the wormery for the big worm or the blue worm, saying that think how much compost you would get and how much waste you would need to a few happy.

By kevin towler (not verified) on 16 Jul 2008 #permalink

Dude that blue worm does look like a gummy worm but i wuldn't eat it. just thinkin bout it makes me wanna barf. I will never look @ blue gummy worms the same again lolz

Does anyone have the contact details for Dr. Dyne. I can't find anything on him. My field staff dug up a giant earth worm in a lowland forest area in Borneo and I would like to know what it is.

EWWWWWWW

I lived inland from Sarina, Queensland for some years and came across giant earthworms on my plot of land, they were a grey/fawn colour and when dug up they did,nt appear to have much life in them, and were quite limp. Does anyone know what type these are?

By Terry Bareham (not verified) on 23 Mar 2009 #permalink

I wonder if their castings are blue to...

By Hannah Houston (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

the ımagine size of the wormery for the big worm or the blue worm, saying that think how much compost you would get and how much waste you would need to a few happy.weee...

I am an architect based in south america i am currently composing a book based on insects. It'a a conceptual book based on multiple insects that we leave with and co-exist and they some how leave of us as parasites, the first example is the flea house. I will be posting this on my website soon I am almost done with it. I once encounter a doctor that told me that we have warms that reside in our intestens can anyone help me with samples and pictures or references that i can look into.
thanks

I'm an Australian girl, and I ain't never seen a big-ass earthworm like that! Very cool, I read something about them in New Scientist just the other day and might do a blog post about them myself. :)

When I was a small kid in the late '60s, there were very long, pale (white?), earthworms in the soggy ground near my cousin's place at Shorncliffe Brisbane, maybe 2 feet long, and as thick as your finger. like the one above. I have never seen them since, but they were not your common garden variety. They looked like the Gippsland worm Megascolides. Did I dream it?

By michael bouwman (not verified) on 14 Sep 2009 #permalink

i am hery much surprised to see such a big earthworm existing on the earth.

it is interesting to know about the food what they eat,and there are may be the existance of predators of this worms,

By shankerappa s hatti (not verified) on 17 Nov 2009 #permalink

Hi I found what I think is a giant blue earthworm in the hills behind Byron Bay, is that somewhere it should be?

By narelle parker (not verified) on 17 Jan 2010 #permalink

Mmmmmmmmm ... SHAI HULUD!

By Napalmnacey (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

it is interesting to know about the food what they eat,and there are may be the existance of predators of this worms,

Hi there,
Thanks for the info, though the genus for the giant blue worm is actually spelled "Terriswalkerius" (Jamieson, 1994, memoirs of the queensland museum). A small difference, but it may help others who search for further info.
Cheers

By Alex Anderson (not verified) on 29 Mar 2010 #permalink

Hi Michael Bouwman - I remember seeing some of these fellas down near the Kangaroo Point ferry in Brisbane. It was late 50's following some torrential rain. Very impressive.

By Tony Harper (not verified) on 28 Apr 2010 #permalink

Terriswalkeris terraereginae is a very interesting creature. Before European settlers arrived, my ancestors used catch Terriswalkeris terraereginae in order to make blue dye for trading with the Maori people of New Zealand (who used it to colour their faces blue).

As well, Terriswalkeris terraereginae is very tasty, but it must be carefully cooked because the head of the creature is very poisonous. You must remove the head before cooking. Only a couple of minutes is needed.

does anyone know if this is for real? why are there no sources cited if so?

When I was a small kid in the late '60s, there were very long, pale (white?), earthworms in the soggy ground near my cousin's place at Shorncliffe Brisbane, maybe 2 feet long, and as thick as your finger. like the one above. I have never seen them since, but they were not your common garden variety. They looked like the Gippsland worm Megascolides. Did I dream it?

I hope it is enough to satisfy the people who read this description. I think everyone enjoys quite a wide audience adoption. Thank you my friend

I am so impress earthworm picture and i am like it earthworm i know that it is a impotant animal of earth

I hope it is enough to satisfy the people who read this description. I think everyone enjoys quite a wide audience adoption. Thank you my friend