Who Has More Feet–Gene Kelly or a Giant Earthworm?

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is Gene Kelly dancing through the puddles in "Singin' in the Rain." That doesn't mean I'm one of those people who think it's romantic to walk in the rain. I find it decidedly unromantic to squish along in wet shoes with cold water dripping down the back of my neck.

Nor do I find it romantic to hop, skip, and tiptoe over all the earthworms who are driven out of the ground by the rain. I don't have any particular aversion to worms; I just don't like stepping on them. (They didn't seem to bother Gene Kelly, but then he was filming inside a studio.) What I really hate, though, is all the pathetic little mummified worm bodies left stranded on the dry sidewalks after the sun comes out.

When I was growing up, after a rain the hard-packed dirt of the farm yard would be crisscrossed with countless meandering worm tracks. It always looked as if they had enjoyed quite a party—or maybe they were just trying to escape all the early birds showing up for their own party.

Sometimes after a rain we would dig up a coffee can full of those worms and go fishing. I remember one time when the worms were so big that their weight was enough to pull our bobbers under. This made it a little hard to tell whether the fish were biting. It did give us kids an excuse to pull our lines in every few minutes to check them, which was more interesting than just sitting there waiting for a fish.

Those fat worms, though, were merely average compared to the "fabled giant Palouse earthworm." For the first time in 20 years, scientists have captured two specimens of these critters, who inhabit the Palouse region along the Washington-Idaho border. Stories had claimed they could spit, they smelled like lilies, and they could grow to a length of three feet. Most of the people I know have never even caught a fish that long.

As so often is the case, the reality fell short of the legends. The two worms being studied at the University of Idaho haven't done any spitting, and they don't smell like lilies. Even worse, the adult worm whose photograph appeared in our local newspaper on April 28 was only about a foot long when "fully extended," while the juvenile one was only six or seven inches long. Soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard said one of her colleagues "suggested we rename it the 'larger-than-average Palouse earthworm.'"

It's nice to see a scientist with a sense of humor (which is probably a useful attribute to develop if one studies earthworms), but the conclusions may be a bit premature. For one thing, how do you tell whether an earthworm is an adult? Did it have an ID card or a birth certificate? Or even a fishing license? It's possible the 12-inch specimen is only an adolescent, and in time it might grow a couple more feet. Well, not exactly grow feet—just grow longer by a couple of feet. You know what I mean.

Maybe we'll get updates from the scientists in Idaho, who presumably are still studying their two giant—er, larger-than-average worms. Or maybe not. Maybe the temptation was too much, and they've all gone fishing.

Categories: Just For Fun, Wild Things | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Who Has More Feet–Gene Kelly or a Giant Earthworm?

  1. Ginny

    We had just moved into a new house in a new town. We got a 2 inch rain in the night. I opened the kitchen door to look out into the garage….I screamed!! the garage floor was writhing with small snakes!! On closer inspection, they proved to be night crawlers,which are BIG worms,an ugly sight if there ever is one. I had seen earthworms on our farm, but never had encountered their big brothers before. I didn’t like them…still don’t. Aunt Ginny

  2. Frank

    We have so many earth worms in our lawn that when they emerge to feed, they leave little holes and by disturbing the grass, kill it and leave the lawn so lumpy, it’s like walking on golf balls. I asked the enotmololgist at Brookings how to get rid of them. He said they were beneficial as they aerate the soil, and just power rake the lawn to smooth it. I had sprayed it numerous times with insecticide, not realizing that earth worms belong in the animal kingdom, right along with us. So we are kinfolk? I don’t like to think so as I would kill them if I could without endangering the neighborhood. Frank

  3. Nancy

    Where is your sense of romance?? When we were first married that was a “special date night” when it would rain and we would go to the park to pick up nightcrawlers! Sara knows what that is like – must be true love!

  4. Sara

    And do you know how hard it is trying to pull those worms out of the ground, much less while it is still raining and you are wearing your (outdated) glasses? Those slimely bodies are quick. I thought that we would just “save” those who would have otherwise perished on the concrete- not those half in the ground already. By the time I saw them in my light, they were gone. Who knew worms could see?

  5. Kathleen

    No wonder I’ve never thought walking in the rain was romantic; I was missing the nightcrawler part. But on the other hand, nobody ever asked me out for a date by saying, “Hey, sweetie, how’d you like to go to the park and pick up some earthworms?”

  6. Frank

    Wow,Katie, your really opened a can of worms with your most recent column.

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