Species Profile: Giant Earthworms by Katherine Krynak, excerpted from The Hum, July 2013
Recently I have become very interested in the good, the bad, and the ugly facts about earthworms thanks to a colleague at school whose research focuses on the impacts of invasive earth worms in Ohio. When most people picture an earthworm, they picture those red wigglers commonly used in composting projects and used to bait hooks to catch bluegill and crappie. But when I think earthworm, I ALWAYS think about the Giant Earthworms (family Glossoscolecidae) found at Reserva Las Gralarias (RLG).
So exactly what would be considered “Giant” you may be wondering? Try two meters long! Their setae (used to help create friction so they can push through the soils) are so big it feels like they may slice your hand when touching them. And yes, I have touched one.
Actually I have held a couple every time I have visited RLG in the rainy season and I hope I get to catch a glimpse of another. Since they are nocturnal and only surface during times of extreme soil moisture and for reproduction, these ground dwellers are rarely seen, making the finds even cooler.
I have two fun stories about giant earth worms of RLG. In 2008, RLG hosted Senior Writer Jennifer Holland and Photographer Joel Sartore from National Geographic. Tim Krynak, Hannah Bennet and I had the opportunity to take them onto the trails of RLG as part of an amphibian decline story the team was working on. It was in March and the ground was sopping wet, making travels downslope more like skiing than hiking. We reached Lucy’s Creek at the lower portion of the reserve and there she was!
The look of pure glee and fascination that swept over Joel’s face was unforgettable and you could see that this was going to be one fun photo shoot. Indeed, the photo shoot was one of my favorite experiences at RLG and I will never forget the giddy squeals we each made as we held that big ol’ worm.
My next story doesn’t actually involve the finding of a Giant Earthworm but was, again, one of my favorite memories at RLG. Just this past January, Tim Krynak, Ed Krynak and I were hiking down Kathy’s Creek looking for aquatic invertebrates (Ed’s specialty) during the daytime with RLG field research assistant, Henry Imba. Tim and I were sharing giant earthworm stories and we were asking Henry (with our broken Spanish) if he had seen one. Now, Henry’s English is actually really good, though he is shy about speaking, so we were trying to interpret his story told to us in Spanish. From what we were gathering though his words and hand gestures, Henry had not only seen one, but he saw a yellow one which he proceeded to eat like a sandwich! “What????” I exclaimed, while laughing so hard I thought I might lose a lung. Henry could tell that something had gone awry in translation. I asked him, “So you ate it like a sandwich?!?!?!?”
It soon became clear that his English “Armadillo” (the mammal) had been interpreted as Spanish “amarillo” which means the color yellow. He had actually said that he saw an armadillo eating a giant earthworm. Once we figured out the translational errors, we all had a good laugh all the way back up to the guest house. I still chuckle about this today.
Right now you may be thinking that you have no desire to see such a beast in the wild or otherwise, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Giant Earthworms are a sight to see. Definitely one for the bucket list!