A little while back, we received one of the coolest worm photos we’ve ever been sent. It features a large worm that a reader found in Rwanda, Africa. When we say “large worm,” we mean it. While by no means the largest worm we’ve ever heard about (some worms are quite big), it is certainly sizable, appearing to be at least a foot (30 centimeters) or so long. The reader’s guide in Africa said that these worms are “like candy” to gorillas, which we thought was very interesting, although unfortunately not helpful for worm identification purposes (as far as we know). And of course this is what our reader wanted us to do: identify the huge worm she found, which appears to be an earthworm, which can indeed be huge.
First, here is an image our reader sent:
As you can see, it’s a large creature – it’s not only long, but also thick. It almost looks heavy, which is a strange thing to say about a worm.
Why do we think this is an earthworm? First, and as we frequently point out, we are always more inclined to suppose our reader found something common rather than uncommon. Rare creatures are, well, rare, so most people don’t come across them. Earthworms, on the other hand, are anything but rare and are found all over the world, including Africa. (For an interesting look at how earthworms have moved around the globe, check out our article on the role of earthworms in the “Colombian Exchange.”) Second, the creature in the picture above appears to have a clitellum, the band-like thing on earthworms. Although clitella are found on both leeches and earthworms, the reader’s creature is pretty clearly not a leech, and in any case the clitellum is only seasonably visible on leeches and in general is difficult to see. In other words, when you clearly notice a creature has a clitellum, there is a good chance it is an earthworm.
So, the answer to our reader’s question couldn’t be more straightforward: the huge worm she found in Africa appears to be an earthworm. We are fairly confident in this hypothesis (which of course is not to say certain), but we can’t offer any more details. Earthworms constitute a sizable portion of the Oligochaeta subclass – there are thousands of different species of earthworms – and even with all the helpful information our reader sent, we don’t know exactly what species of earthworm she found. It would take us far too long to sift through all the different possibilities. Hopefully, however, we’ve answered the reader’s basic question and narrowed the scope of her inquiry if she wants to find out more information.
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