April 28, 2010

Rare Species Of Earthworm Found In Washington

Scientists have discovered two living specimens of the giant Palouse earthworm near Spokane, Washington.

One adult and one juvenile were found by University of Idaho soil science student Shan Xu and research support scientist Karl Umiker on March 27, according to a Tuesday press release posted at the university's website. Furthermore, they also discovered three Palouse cocoons, two of which have already hatched while under laboratory observation.

According to Nicholas K. Geranios of the Associated Press (AP), "The giant Palouse earthworm has fascinated scientists for decades after long being written off as an extinct creature. Reports suggested that the worms had a penchant for spitting and smelled like lilies, further enhancing the myth of the earthworm in the agricultural Palouse region on the Washington-Idaho border."

The Palouse earthworm, or Driloleirus americanus as it is officially known, has been described as pinkish-white in color. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant endangered species status to the rare worm.

According to folk tales, the giant Palouse earthworm could grow to three-feet in length, smelled like lilies, lived in permanent burrows more than a foot deep, and spit to defend themselves. However, after studying the discovered species, University of Idaho soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard found that they were actually no larger than 10-inches long, don't give off a flowery odor, and don't actually spit.

The giant Palouse earthworm was first discovered in 1897, but up until the discovery of these species, it had only been seen four times over a 100-plus year span. Environmental experts believe that less than two percent of the original population remains in its natural environment, which has been largely compromised by urban development.


Image Caption: An adult giant Palouse earthworm stretches to its full length of 10 to 12 inches in a University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences laboratory April 12. University of Idaho/Kelly Weaver photo.


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