Worms don't mind the wet

Feb. 26, 2003

Just the other day, one of my masters walked right up to my cubicle, bold as brass, and started talking to me. So much for sheet plastic and duct tape. I'm going to have to think of something else. Dang.

No time to worry about that now because I have important news about worms. The last time it rained, I started getting calls from people who were wondering why they were finding all sorts of worms on their driveways and patios and so on. Three of my colleagues even asked me about this. One of them said that worms were crawling into her house.

I thought this was pretty dumb because everyone knows that when it rains and the ground gets saturated the worms come to the surface so they won't drown. So I said rude things to my colleagues and ignored the people who called to ask about this.

Well, it seems that I have to apologize to the callers I ignored. Not to my three colleagues, though. I'd rather die.

In the course of looking up something else, I came across an interview with one Mary Fauci, who is a worm researcher at Washington State University. It was at

Did you know that in parts of Oregon, Washington and Idaho they have a worm, the giant Palouse earthworm, that is 3 feet long or something like that? It's pink and white, and when you handle it, it gives off the aroma of lilacs. A pink and white 3-foot-long worm that smells like lilacs. Cool.

But I digress.

This is the deal about rain and drowning worms: Worms breathe through their skin. They take in oxygen through a bunch of minute blood vessels just under the surface of their skin. Fauci said worms can live for months in saturated soil if there is enough oxygen in the water.

The thing is that nobody seems to be quite sure why they surface when it rains. One theory is that the rain washes some kind of irritants into their burrows, chemicals or something.

Another idea is that it is a good opportunity for the worms to get out and look around. Worms can't take a lot of direct sunlight. So a rainy day gives them a good chance to get out of their burrows, surface, crawl around a bit, check out worm babes and so on, because obviously you are not going to meet a lot of other worms if you're living in a one-worm burrow.

When you think about it, the whole drowning thing didn't make sense anyway. If lots of worms were in danger of drowning every time it rained, eventually we'd run out of worms, with the exception of my masters.

There always seem to be enough of them to go around.

Reach Thompson at clay or (602) 444-8612.

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