The Common Earthworm

Tales from An Urban Worm Herder

With the Navy behind me and extra time ahead of me for the pursuit of other interests, I have turned my hand to the exciting profession of Worm Whispering. The Canadian Maritimes are experiencing their usual cool, wet spring which has generated perfect conditions for numerous wiggly  Lumbricus terrestris (the common earthworm) to squirm their way across my nearby parking lots and pathways.

So, why take up whispering for earthworms? Some serious worm experts at the University of Illinois have put some heavyweight study into the little animals and you can read all about Squirmin’ Herman and his amazing benefits at the following link:

One of the interesting facts that I learned when I started this new profession was that worms are not coming to the surface because of the rain drowning them out of their burrows. Rather, after a good soaking, it signals to the animal that this would be a good time to start a worm pilgrimage to see if in fact the dirt is dirtier on the other side.

They are ambitious, determined creatures. Straight line distance across my parking lot is about 100 feet making it quite the trek if you were wiggling along on your belly. As you can see in this video, this worm was moving at a blistering speed of 8 inches per minute or .0076 MPH. Cutting straight across the lot, a determined worm could make it in 2.5 hours. Impressive!

Okay, now that you aspiring worm herders are jacked on the benefits of worms, let us get to know the relevant parts and characteristics of your typical wiggler. The diagram above shows the main parts of your common earthworm or night crawler. They are weird, little beasts who are both male and female, hermaphrodites, so when two worms get together to ‘do it’, they double their pleasure. Mmmmm, pornographic worm sex! Yeah, probably not a big seller. Anyways, stuff goes in the mouth end and worm poop gold comes out the back end. Also, note the Clitelum (yes, a little dirty sounding and is related to more worm sex). Also known as the Saddle, this is an important landmark for when I explain the best method of gathering a healthy starter crop of worms. Lastly, the entire worm is covered in goo that enables it to inch along the pavement or through the dirt and keeps it from drying out.

Okay, enough prepping, let’s get hunting! The best time and place to find your future herd is to go to the nearest parking lot at the tail end of a solid rain event. You have to be quick or cars and birds will take their toll first. When I was neophyte to the profession, I would just pick up a worm with my fingers. As you can see in this video, as soon as they are touched they employ their defensive mechanisms. The slippery goo makes them hard to pick up, your fingers get icky and you’re stressing out the worm.

Here’s my patented method for successful, efficient worm harvesting and re-settling:

1)  Find a butter knife and a worm receptacle. Early into my new career, I determined that I needed something to carry the worms in besides my hands. There were a lot of them plus I’m pretty sure those horny worms were having sex as I carried them back to my garden plot. You can use a plain cup but I went upscale with Tina’s $12 Pampered Chef Tupperware measuring cup.

Tools of the Worm Whispering trade

2)  Find an unsuspecting worm and as demonstrated in this instructional video, slide the knife under the worm just aft of the Clitellum or Saddle, smoothly lift the specimen and plop it into your waiting worm carrier. You will soon figure out where the balance point is and if you worm whisper correctly, the worm will be limp and docile. The novice worm whisperer will startle their prey and they will rapidly contract and try to squirm away. It gets a little trickier to balance them on the knife but persevere to get the hang of it. If the worm has its head near some dirt, you have to be especially swift of hand before it deploys its setae. These are hair-like bristles so strong that you might pull the worm in two. Since worms can regrow the back half of their bodies, this is a defensive mechanism where a bird can get a meal and the worm can live another day.

A successful hunt! (Strangely, Tina doesn’t want her measuring cup back.)

3)  Remember to pace yourself. I have a recurring worm herding injury from so many deep knee bends.

4)  Gather worm movement intelligence from the neighbors and your significant others. Remember to reassure them you’re not some creepy person stalking their parking lots or some unemployed fisherman hunting for bait. When they understand your role as a worm protector and saviour, they are more likely to just view you as a harmless kook.

5)  Just like playoff hockey, worm whisper with your head up! Some of the best specimens are right in the middle of the road and you don’t want to end up squished like a worm. Speaking of squished worms, you can pick up the dead ones too as their bodies are good worm food and fertilizer for the garden.

Find an open, turned up section of your garden for your worm wriggle’s new home.

6) Once you’ve got a decent bunch or wriggle of worms, head back to your dirt pile. Keep an eye on them as they will squirm right out of their carrier. Find an open spot that has been turned up and loosely cover them in dirt. From there, let your worms do what worms do, ie. have worm sex, eat and poop.

Loosely cover to hide the worm hanky-panky, then enjoy your new worm farm.

Hopefully I have inspired more people to take up the profession or as I see it, the calling, of Worm Whispering. During the harvest you get lots of exercise and if you time it right, you can take a free shower in the rain. Later after a successful day of herding, you can relax by the garden and listen to your worms happily hump. Your summer garden and inner soul will thank you.

Happy hunting fellow Worm Whisperers!

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger (and Worm Whisperer) to the list.