Worm Grunting Mystery Solved…by Darwin

By Nina Bai | October 14, 2008 6:38 pm

wormMoles can eat their own weight in worms each day. But they’re no match for human worm grunters—also known as worm snorers, fiddlers, or charmers— who can collect thousands of worms each day, selling them for bait. Worm grunting involves thrusting a stick into the soil and rubbing it with a piece of steel to generate vibrations that send earthworms fleeing to the surface. It’s quite popular in the southeastern U.S.— but until now, no one really understood why it worked.

Ken Catania, a mole expert at Vanderbilt University and MacArthur genius award winner, made the connection between moles, worms, and human grunters. The humans are fooling the worms by unknowingly imitating the sound of a burrowing mole. The worms instinctively surface (faster than you’d think) because moles generally stay underground when foraging.

In Catania’s paper on this topic, he gives props to Darwin, who made the same hypothesis more than a century ago. “It is often said that if the ground is beaten or otherwise made to tremble worms will believe that they are pursued by a mole and leave their burrows,” Darwin wrote in The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. Through trial and error, Darwin also observed that worms don’t respond to the sounds of whistles, bassoons, pianos, or human shouting. Which proves yet again that Darwin knew everything.

Related Content:

DISCOVER: The Electric Mole
Discoblog: Worms Are Picky Ejaculators

Image: flickr/ Dodo-Bird

MORE ABOUT: animals, Darwin, moles, worms
  • http://waynediego.blogspot.com Joe Reefer

    Personally, I want to meet the guy that got to stand around yelling at worms.

  • http://www.hasthelhcdestroyedtheearth.com/ Sasquatch

    So Darwin was this super genius?
    NOT!
    If Darwin correctly identified the mole phenomenon with worms it wasn’t because of any scientific abilities. My friend, it was because he was a worm! Only a worm would resurrect an ancient pagan religious belief about origins like evolution, and masquerade it as a scientific theory, and only worms like you would buy into it.

  • Dwidnle

    Ironic your name would be Sasquatch – I’ll bet you believe in a cornucopia of imaginary creatures.

  • igniteme

    Sasquatch… Sigh… Never mind. You wouldn’t understand anyway…

  • Fabio

    this is fake

  • Fabio

    this is a fake article, made up. cant believe this stupid shit

  • Fabio

    fake and falsified news article.

  • IgniteMe

    Fabio… Are you seriously questioning the veracity of Discover Magazine’s reputation? Why don’t you call the Chamber of Commerce in Sopchoppy, Florida and ask them about their annual “Worm Gruntin’ Festival”? Are you an IDiot like Sasquatch? Do you EVER think before you open your mouth? By the way – veracity means: Conformity to truth or fact; accuracy.

  • F26BP

    Re: Sasquatch

    By “ancient pagan religious belief,” you mean having a creation story, right? Why don’t you think of 3 religions and tell me if any of them exclude a creation story. Remember Genesis 1 and 2?

    So what’s your point? (And yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

  • http://... kris

    Is that why worms surface when it’s raining?

  • Nina Bai

    Re: kris

    Good question! That was also a popular hypothesis, but they tested the effects of rain and found that it didn’t produce the same effect. From the press release:

    “But the more definitive test of rain was to construct a large outdoor bin, fill it with 300 worms, and wait for thunderstorms. Even in very heavy downpours, only 1-2 worms came out in an hour. That seemed to rule out the hypothesis that worm grunting mimics the sound of rainfall.”

  • nsrmbo

    @Sasquatch

    In other news, the earth is flat, and the sun revolves around it. And thunder means g-d is angry.

    You idiot.

  • Gene Minkler

    Who says you have to watch saturday night live to get a laugh! Some of your answers are
    hilarious!!! LOL, C O U G H, C O U G H. Try rubbing yer balls with a bow tie!!!!!

  • Pingback: New “Worm Charming” Champion Sets World Record | Discoblog | Discover Magazine

  • http://www.google.com Dana O. Morse

    Hey! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for the nice information you’ve got right here on this post. I shall be coming again to your blog for more soon.

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