The Giant Palouse Earthworm

large earthworm in a test tube

It lives deep underground and is a real scientific mystery. In the past thirty years there have been only four confirmed sightings. It seems driloleirus americanus is no match for steel plow blades.

The giant Palouse earthworm is white, apparently can grow several feet in length; and when frightened, spits a lily-scented saliva.

Graduate student Yaniria Sanchez de Leon actually found one of these native worms in 2005. She explained that earthworms can feel the vibrations of the shovel, making them difficult to capture. "It is not uncommon that you find these rare earthworms on the first try, because they might feel the vibration and just go deep and escape from your shovels," said the University of Idaho student. "They can move faster than we can dig. We know that."

two people hunting for earthworms

Her teacher says the giant Palouse earthworm has been a great find. "At one point there was an article in a local paper that had the giant Palouse earthworm on the front page," said Jodi Johnson Maynard. "And I thought, Wow, people are paying attention to what’s underground, because it’s so important."

What do earthworms contribute to the land? They aerate the soil, bringing oxygen to a plant's roots; and they control erosion by creating channels. As they feed, they also release nutrients back to the soil.

The interest in the Palouse earthworm has impressed Professor Paul McDaniel, who teaches an introductory level course in soil science. "When the subject of the palouse earthworm comes up," says McDaniel, "I see a lot of interest that isn’t there the rest of the semester.

"I don’t normally think about an earthworm as being a very charismatic symbol of a region. It doesn’t have fur or brown eyes. But people really seem to have latched on to that."

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