Pin It
Favorite

Eureka! 

It's not as giant as they had originally thought, but at least scientists can say that Giant Palouse Earthworms really exist

click to enlarge One of two Giant Palouse Earthworms find by University of Idaho soil scientists in late March - BILL LOFTUS
  • Bill Loftus
  • One of two Giant Palouse Earthworms find by University of Idaho soil scientists in late March

After 10 minutes of shocking the dirt, Karl Umiker started to work the ground with a trowel — hoping some earthworms would come up.

As a research support scientist at the University of Idaho, he and Shan Xu (a Master's student) had returned to this slice of prairie — a narrow eyebrow south of Moscow called Paradise Ridge — to sample for earthworms. The winter had been mild, making the area easier to access far earlier than in past years.

As soil scientists, they were searching for any earthworms — but always hoping to spot a rare Giant Palouse Earthworm: the fabled three-foot, lily-scented, pale white worm that The Inlander reported on in November. It's a worm that's so rarely found many questioned whether it even existed.

During this visit, in late March, Umiker stuck his trowel in the ground and saw a worm. A pale worm. A big, not giant, worm.

"I moved a little bit of vegetation out of the way and right away I saw the juvenile worm," he says. "And then I started digging around a little bit and managed to not slice the adult earthworm in half. I managed to get both worms unharmed."

"I knew right away when I saw them — the juvenile looked strange to me," he says. "I told [Shan], this is something special. We need to be careful here."

After collecting both worms — one juvenile, one adult — and three earthworm cocoons, he and Xu brought them back to the university lab. The adult was sent off to be killed, dissected and identified; the juvenile was tucked in a cooler of dirt in the lab. Working with Kansas taxonomist Samuel James, they ID'd it: this was a Giant Palouse Earthworm — the first to be found and successfully collected in decades.

News of their extraordinary find made national headlines today, appearing in articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, among dozens of other news outlets.

Finding one of these worms alive is just one hurdle for the scientists, Jodi Johnson-Maynard, an associate professor of soil and water management at the U of I, says.

"We feel like we're learning a lot about the species, but we still know relatively little," she says. "Some of those same questions are still going to be there. How large is the population? Can we prove without a doubt that it's numbers have decreased? No."

Noah Greenwald, who co-signed a petition to see the species officially declared as endangered or threatened, says the find is obviously good for his case.

"It's certainly good news and it confirms that there's still hope for the [worm]," Greenwald, who works at the Center for Biological Diversity, says. "The fact that they found them in a native prairie remnant confirms that they are associated with a habitat type that's incredibly rare."

Umiker says the cocoons have since hatched in the lab — producing baby worms they believe to be Giant Palouse worms. But it's still too early to tell, and Umiker says they're still trying to figure out less destructive ways of ID'ing them.

"The hope is that with the juvenile and the infants is that we can just swab the outside of their skin, pick up some skin cells and some slime and run DNA on it," he says, "so we don't have to kill them."

  • Pin It

Speaking of Palouse Earthworm

  • As the Worm Turns
  • As the Worm Turns

    The giant Palouse earthworm might just get some protection after all. Plus, the Tour de France will finish without Farrar.
    • Jul 21, 2010
  • The worm might have a chance
  • The worm might have a chance

    • Jul 19, 2010
  • Worms and Politicians
  • Worms and Politicians

    A judge rules that the giant Palouse earthworm needs no protection. Plus, judging candidates by their e-mail addresses.
    • Jun 16, 2010
  • More »

Latest in News

  • OK, Hold Your Nose
  • OK, Hold Your Nose

    Everything you need to know before Election Day
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Base of Support
  • Base of Support

    Polling local leaders and opinion-makers about presidential politics
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • The Messenger
  • The Messenger

    Local leaders weigh in on how Donald Trump's campaign has impacted racism in America
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival

Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival @ Riverfront Park

Through Oct. 30

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Leah Sottile

  • Imaginary Friends
  • Imaginary Friends

    The very real role that fantasy plays in our everyday lives
    • Aug 13, 2014
  • Expert Advice
  • Expert Advice

    Dab? Vape? Indica? Sativa? A few tips for beginners
    • Jul 9, 2014
  • In the Veginning
  • In the Veginning

    At the first Spokane VegFest, you'll get a bellyful, not an earful
    • Jun 18, 2014
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


Briefs


trail mix


green zone


marijuana


Readers also liked…

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation