In a contemplative mood after my workout this morning, I ambled along the sidewalk enjoying the rain on my face and the hint of cottonwood sap in the air and then I looked down to discover that I was squashing worms with every step.
This was not the first time I’d unwittingly destroyed the already short lives of these invertebrates nor was it the first time I’d subsequently wondered why the heck they had congregated in such masses above the ground. Accompanying that question was another: How come there was no corresponding surge in bird flocks enjoying the easy pickings? I tiptoed (it didn’t really help to avoid the smooshing-eww) home to find some answers.
As usual, my research yielded some surprises; I thought the worms came up to avoid drowning in their water saturated tunnels and this is partially true because certain species have a harder time drawing oxygen from their surroundings if the ground is very wet. However, the worms that surface are typically mature so researchers now think they emerge to reproduce and/or to travel longer distances; rains facilitate their reproduction because it’s easier to travel above ground and in damp weather. The increased danger of surfacing would be negated by the evolutionary drive.
While reading of these theories, I came across the term worm grunting.
Huh, I thought-worms make noise?
No, they do not but people do-in an attempt to call worms to the surface. In areas where folks do a lot of fishing with worms, those who sell bait might learn to grunt the worms out of the ground-a very efficient farming technique, it appears- one young lady collected 567 earthworms in thirty minutes. Considering that one could sell a pail of fifty for thirty-five dollars, worm calling /fiddling/ snoring/ charming or grunting might be lucrative, as well. Towns in Ontario, Alabama, Florida and the U.K. even have worm grunting competitions and festivals.
Various techniques are used by grunters to imitate the vibrations made by moles which are a natural predator of earth worms. They rise to the surface to flee the moles and get snatched up by the bait collectors. I did not see anyone out collecting the worms this morning nor did I see any birds taking advantage of this easy feast. Apparently, I’m just not in the right spot to see these freeloaders, since everything I read suggested that there should be lots of birds scooping up the amorous worms.
Considering that this is a wellness almanac and not an citizen scientist blog, this post might seem out of place so I’ll attempt to explain: Exercise leads to physical and emotional wellness; observing the curiosities of nature helps me understand my own existence as a creature; walking in the rain feels good especially when there is a warm shower waiting nearby; discovering that there are festivals for worm grunters makes me laugh and laughing cures almost all ills.