A reader wrote to us a while back about a large earthworm he has been seeing in his shed as of late. He’s confident it’s an earthworm, but he was curious about its size; evidently, the earthworm is quite big – he estimates it to be about a foot (30 centimeters) long and the width of a pencil – and his family is skeptical of what he claims to be seeing. (The reader’s family is calling him “nuts,” more precisely.) The creature is hard to spot because it rarely comes out of the ground, so he hasn’t been able to get a photograph of it yet. The reader asked if we can supply any relevant information. We can, and the first thing to say is that our reader is in no way nuts: earthworms can get very big. Below is a basic overview of some of the huge earthworms out there, including the common Lumbricus terrestris, Glossoscolex giganteu, and Megascolides australis (a.k.a. giant Gippsland earthworm). All of the these worms reach impressive sizes, especially the last two.
We’ll begin with the Lumbricus terrestris. Originally native to Europe, these worms have since been spread around the world, including to the United States, where they are regarded as an invasive species. (If you want to know more about how earthworms came to the United States from Europe, check out our article “U.S. Worms: Do American Earthworms Come From Europe?“) Most would simply call these creatures “earthworms” (or perhaps just “worms” – earthworms are archetypal worms, after all), as not many people draw distinctions between the various earthworm species throughout the world. A typical Lumbricus terrestris can easily be about 25 centimeters long, although they can reach even greater lengths – one recently found in China was reported to be 50 centimeters long. We suspect this is what our reader found. They are about the right size, and it would not be strange to find one because they are quite common.
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Now, onto the Glossoscolex giganteus and Megascolides australis. As their glorious Latin names imply, both of these worms are enormous. Glossoscolex giganteus worms, sometimes just called “giant earthworms,” are found in tropical regions of Brasil. They routinely grow to be about one meter (about 3.3 feet) long. A Megascolides australis, which as you might have guessed are found in Australia, are also commonly a meter long. However, they can also grow to be much bigger, with some specimens reaching the ludicrous length of three meters (or ten feet). This is large by the standards of the animal kingdom, and we are talking about an earthworm!
So, our reader can rest assured (and assure his family) that he is perfectly in control of his faculties and is merely observing a large earthworm, probably a Lumbricus terrestris, which, as we said, is not even rare. If the worm in the shed is actually a foot long, it is slightly longer than average, but such a length is by no means unheard of, and in any case the worm is quite small compared to the beasts that are the Glossoscolex giganteus and Megascolides australis.
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