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Wednesday, 28 April 2010 23:35

Scientists debunk tall tales of Palouse earthworm

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American/Chinese scientists in Idaho have finally captured a giant Plouse earthworm that some tall tales have described as three feet in length, smelling like lilies, and with the ability to spit. Yes, it is a quite long earthworm, as worms go, but we'll dissect the tall tales with some scientific proof.

 


U.S. research scientist Karl Umiker, from the University of Idaho, and Chinese graduate student Shan Xu, from Chengdu, China, and working at the University of Idaho, are the two researchers involved in discovering the giant Palouse earthworm.

It has the scientific name: Driloleirus americanus), and is also called the Washington giant earthworm.

Palouse is a region of eastern Washington state and northern Idaho that is the native habitat for D. americanus.

The worm species D. americanus (which literally means 'lily-like worm') was first discovered in 1897 (primarily) by U.S. scientists Frank Smith and R.W. Doane. Since then, it has only been rarely found.

For instance, in May 25, 2005, Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon, a graduate student from the University of Idaho, found one sample of the species, and it was confirmed as a valid example of D. americanus, only one of four confirmed sightings since the 1890s.

However, as indicated, over the past one hundred, ten plus years the Plouse earthworm has been very difficult to find.

In fact, most scientists thought it had gone extinct around the 1980s.

 

 

Page two talks about some of the tall tales generated over the years about the 'fabled' Palouse earthworm.

 

 



Over the years, many tall tales have been generated by the few people who have actually seen the worm, and others who probably wanted to see them.

Read about the Seattle Times had to say about the worm in 2006 in its article 'Giant worm is stuff of legends and must be saved, group says.'

Some of the supposed attributes of the Palouse earthworm have been:

 

'¢    Burrows into the earth up to 5 meters (15 feet)

'¢    Grows up to about 1 meter (3 feet) long

'¢    Sends out a flowery fragrance that smells like lilies when handled

'¢    Spits at would-be attackers as a defense mechanism

Two large pinkish-white Palouse earthworms were found by the two University of Idaho researchers on March 27, 2010. One Palouse earthworm was an adult and the other a juvenile.

A picture of one of the captured Palouse earthworms is found at the Washington Post/Associated Press article 'Idaho scientists find fabled worm.'

Page three continues with comments from Dr. Johnson-Maynard, a part of the Palouse earthworm team.

 

 


 


In the article, Dr. Jodi Johnson-Maynard, who is part of the team looking for the Palouse earthworm, states, 'It's a good day for the worm.'

The adult was positively identified as D. americanus by Dr. Sam James, a research associate from the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, who is an expert on the 'Exploration of earthworm biodiversity, phylogenetic systematics and biogeography of megascolecid earthworms; earthworms as a model taxon for determining past land area relationships in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.'

The two Idaho scientists found the adult to be only about nine to 12 inches long and the juvenile about six or seven inches long. It grows longer when it is stretched out. So, it is a long worm, but not three feet long as in some historic accounts.

And, the researchers did not smell the lily smell on the worms and did not see where it spit.

After find that the tall tales are not very accurate when compared to reality, Dr. Johnson-Maynard stated, "One of my colleagues suggested we rename it the 'larger-than average Palouse earthworm.'" (Washington Post/AP)

However, it is still believed that the worm species burrows deep into the bunch grass prairies of the Palouse region, where the soil is very rich in organic matter and volcanic ash. It burrows down into the soil during dry/drought conditions in order to conserve water.

Page four concludes.

 



Dr. Johnson-Maynard concludes, "The most important thing about this to me is this is the first time we have an intact, live specimen that we can get DNA from and make a taxonomic description to the species level.' [Washington Post/AP]

It was stated that the adult worm was killed so that it could be positively identified, while the juvenile remains alive for further study.


Note: The earlier quote from Dr. Johnson-Maynard that 'It's a good day for the worm' is probably only applicable to the juvenile, not the adult'”at least from the perspective of the two worms.

For additional information on the April 2010 discovery of the Palouse earthworms, please read the University of Idaho press release 'University of Idaho Earthworm Research Turns Up Rare Find: Giant Palouse Earthworms.'

 

It begins: "A project to understand earthworms and where they are found in relation to native plants and invasive weeds yielded a rare find in late March: several giant Palouse earthworms."

 

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