3 Foot Worms

Do 3 foot worms actually exist? You bet they do! And guess what? Some worms can grow even longer than 3 feet! Let’s start with the 3 footer and work our way up. The giant Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) was discovered in 1897. The worm was white in color and as taxonomist Frank Smith put it, “very abundant.” Since
Mr. Smith’s discovery of Palouse in 1897, sightings have been extremely rare.

The most recent sighting of a giant Palouse earthworm was confirmed in 2005. The Palouse was spotted by a University of Idaho researcher. Seventeen years earlier, in 1988, the worm was spotted by another scientist. Even with several sightings, the unusually large Palouse earthworm is not protected under federal laws. Fortunately, Palouse fans filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009. The petition calls for the protection of the Palouse as an endangered species. A petition was also filed during the Bush administration, but sadly, it failed.

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Interested in another rather large worm? Look no further than the Giant Gippsland Earthworm. Scientific Classification is as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Class: Clitellata
Subclass: Oligochaeta
Family: Megascolecidae
Genus: Megascolides
Species: M. australis
Binomial name: Megascolides australis

Discovered in 1878, the Giant Gippsland Earthworm is one of the world’s largest earthworm. It is one of 1,000 native Australian earthworms on record today. This massive creature has the ability to grow anywhere from 6.5 to 10 feet in length and around 0.8 inches (2 cm) in diameter. The longest Giant Gippsland worm on record, however, was 13 feet long. Guess this makes the Palouse look like an ant, huh?

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Like other earthworms, the Giant Gippsland Earthworm needs water and moisture to survive. This means, the Gippsland rarely leaves its wet underground labyrinth. According to the Museum of Victoria, it is only found in the Bass River Valley of South Gippsland, in an area of about 100,000 hectares bounded by the towns of Loch, Korumburra and Warragul.

The Gippsland worm will not come out if you try to coax it. What you will do is scare them into burrowing deeper into the ground. Any disturbance will make the worms slither as fast as they can through their slippery tunnels. You will hear a gurgling noise as they hustle beneath the surface.

The Gippsland earthworm is an endangered species, so it is against the law to disturb them. These creatures are already fragile, thanks to agriculture, herds of animals, and pesticides. If you dig up a Gippsland worm and handle it, you could end up killing it. Fortunately, Gippsland earthworms mate every spring and summer. The egg sacs are around 2-3 inches long and they take a year to develop. Baby Gippsland worms are anything but. When they are born, the Gippsland worm is already 8 inches long. The head is deep purple and the skin is pinkish-gray.

For more information about the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, the following reading materials might be useful:

Taylor, S., Crosthwaite, J. & Backhouse, G. 1997. Giant Gippsland Earthworm Megascolides australis. Natural Resources and Environment Flora & Fauna Guarantee Action Statement No. 77. 7 pp.

Van Praagh, B. 1992. The biology and conservation of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm Megascolides australis McCoy, 1878. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 24 (12):1363-1367.

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