When I was in Grade 1, one of my classmates brought a mason jar full of dirt and giant (or at least that is how they seemed to me then) earthworms for show and tell...I was enthralled by them. Never before had I seen such large worms...I offered to buy them off of him for 10 cents. He agreed and suddenly I became the proud owner of several, slithering worms. I kept my worms out on the deck. I would go outside and play with them, make little obstacle courses and houses for them...trying to name them and tell them apart some how...Well, one hot, sunny morning, I went outside, grabbed my jar of worms off the deck and then made my way over to the garage where dad was working that morning. As I chatted with him in the garage, I proceeded to shake up my jar of worms...just spinning, dancing, chatting and shaking. And then, without even considering what I had been doing, I opened the lid of my jar...
Though I know I will never do justice to the experience I am about to describe...please believe me when I tell you it was one of the most horrifically disgusting moments of my life!!!
...warm, hot, slithering, writhing WARM worms UNEXPECTEDLY spilled out onto my hand when I took off the lid...it was such a surprise that I dropped the jar and it shattered on the garage floor...warm, slimy worms, wet dirt and broken glass, in a hot, slimy, wiggly mess on the floor…I screamed…I cried…I was forever traumatized….and have since forever hated worms or any variation thereof.
That is until this week.
A few days ago, on a cool, rainy evening much like tonight, I was walking home from work when I soon realized that the whole sidewalk was covered with these little creepy crawlers. At first disgusted, I turned my nose up and tried to walk on, but soo numerous were they and so active this night, my attention wandered back to the sidewalk and I began to watch them as I walked. It was actually a very beautiful moment, and soon my heart was once again turned to these little guys…
Thoughts and questions began to race through my mind….”why did the worm cross the road?”, it sort of amused me…where were they all going…they were all out and about this evening, it was like some big party, or like they had a very important mission to fulfill at this pivotal moment in time. And then, of course, it dawned on me…LOVE…It suddenly seemed very clear to me that all of these precious little worms were in such a state on the sidewalk because they were looking for their mate…An enormous love story unfolding right before my eyes.
I kept walking, inspired by it all…wishing I could write a beautiful poem for this wormy occasion.
When I got home I excitedly tried to share the magic of the evening with JTB…expressing in some form or another that I thought all the worms were in love tonight. He however, being the scientific mind of the home, believed that they were probably all out and about because they couldn’t breathe in the ground with all the rain….
Well, after doing a little “research*”, I have learned, that this indeed was a very special sight…(in case you wanted to know)….
Many people have noticed that after a rain, worms appear in gardens, on sidewalks, and scattered across neighborhood lawns, much to the delight of local birds. Modern humans are far from the first to make this observation: numerous authors dating back to the Renaissance have noted the appearance of worms after a rain. There are several interconnecting factors to explain why worms come out when it rains, but the short story is that worms come out after a rain because they find conditions above ground to be especially favorable then.
A common myth about worms is that worms are forced to come out of their holes during the rain because they would drown if they stayed below. In fact, this is not true. Worms breathe through gas exchange, absorbing oxygen directly through their skins. As long as water has sufficient dissolved oxygen, worms can actually live for several days fully immersed in water, as several enterprising scientists have discovered.
However, the way in which worms breathe does explain why they tend to congregate above ground after the rain. Worms are covered in a mucus which facilitates gas exchange, and as a result, they must stay moist. Most of the time, conditions above ground are too dry and hot for worms, and the worms will dry out and die because they cannot breathe. After a rain, the environment is moist, facilitating breathing and also making it easier to crawl along the ground, so worms are encouraged to surface.
****As for why worms come out above ground at all, worms prefer to mate above ground. Worms come out after a rain in the hopes of finding mates, treating the above-ground world like a sort of worm discotheque, with a wide sampling of potential mates available. Studious observers may have noted that worms often congregate in small groups above ground, illustrating their primary reason for surfacing. Worms, incidentally, are simultaneous hermaphrodites, so both partners exchange sperm which is used to fertilize eggs.****
In addition to surfacing after a rain, worms come out at night as well. During the evening hours, the air is much cooler, and the environment is often moist, making it hospitable to worms.
*google search: thanks wise geek.
Something to think about on your next rainy night!!!