April 28, 2010
However, last month Shan Xu, a University of Idaho graduate student studying soil science, and Karl Umiker, a research support scientist, dug up two strange earthworms on March 27. They were identified as Palouse earthworms (Driloleirus americanus) by earthworm-expert Sam James this month, though the specimens were not 3 feet long; they did not spit; nor did they smell like lilies.
Still, the worms are big for the area: the adult runs about 7 inches relaxed and nears 10 inches when stretched out, but no-where near the reported 3 feet (36 inches). They are transparent and their organs are visible through their bodies.
Although a 3-foot-long worm may sound difficult to believe, there are number of earthworms around the world that are bigger. The giant Gippsland earthworm from Australia reaches 3 meters in length (9.8 feet or 117 inches).
Despite some likely exaggerations, the Palouse earthworms remain largely mysterious denizens of the underground.
"We are beginning to gain some understanding about where we are likely to find the giant Palouse earthworm, and how much we have to learn about them," University of Idaho soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard said in a press release. The juvenile earthworm has been sent to Russia to have its DNA taken for future identification.
The Palouse earthworm is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, although the species hasn't been assessed for over a decade. The species' native habitat, the Palouse prairie, has been almost entirely converted to agriculture with less than one percent of native prairie lands surviving today. Scientists believe that many native earthworms in the US struggle to survive due to intensive agriculture as well as competition with invasive species.
Conservation groups sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Palouse earthworm under the Endangered Species Act in 2006. The petition was rejected due to a lack of information on the species. These two new specimens may represent a turning-point for the clearly rare, but not so big after all, Palouse earthworm.
An adult giant Palouse earthworm stretches to its full length of 10 to 12 inches in a University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences laboratory April 12. University of Idaho/Kelly Weaver photo.
A juvenile, top, and an adult giant Palouse earthworm are pictured in a University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences laboratory April 12. University of Idaho/Kelly Weaver photo.
New blind snake discovery
(04/06/2010) Call them survivors: blindsnakes have been identified as one of the few groups of organisms that inhabited Madagascar when it broke from the Indian subcontinent around 100 million years ago. According to a new study in Biology Letters, blindsnakes not only survived the split of Madagascar and India, but likely traveled from Asia to Australia and Africa to South America on floating vegetation, the latter a journey that may have taken six months of drifting on ocean currents. "Blindsnakes are not very pretty, are rarely noticed, and are often mistaken for earthworms," says Blair Hedges of her subjects. "Nonetheless, they tell a very interesting evolutionary story."
Frog in Australia goes from 'extinct' to very, very endangered
(03/08/2010) Facing habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and the devastating chytrid fungus, there has been little positive news about amphibians recently. However, a story out of Australia brings a much needed respite from bad news. In 2008 Luke Pearce, a fisheries conservation officer, stumbled on a frog that had been thought to be extinct for over thirty years. Not recorded since the 1970s, Pearce rediscovered the yellow-spotted bell frog (Litoria castanea) on rural Australian farmland in the Southern Tableland of New South Wales.
First footage captured of giant sea serpent of the deep: the oarfish
(02/09/2010) Scientists have captured what they believe to be the first footage ever of the oarfish, the species likely responsible for legends told of sea serpents.