Saturday was a big day for the world’s worm charmers: The 30th annual World Worm Charming Championships took place in the U.K. Competitors aimed to draw as many earthworms out of the soil as possible using techniques from tap dancing to rock music, and a 10-year-old girl emerged victorious after raising a record 567 of the wigglers in half an hour.
Research shows that creating vibrations draws worms from the soil to the surface by mimicking the sensation of a burrowing mole, which feeds on worms, according to an NPR interview with Mike Forster, the chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes [audio]. The Telegraph reports:
“The weather is a big factor,” says Mike Forster, a retired policeman. “When it’s warm, with a bit of moisture in the air like today you’d expect a good score, but there are still a lot of things we don’t understand.” Including, precisely, how the art of charming works. For many years it was presumed that the vibrations created by noise, fooled the worms into thinking it was raining. Apparently uncomfortable in wet soil they instinctively head for the surface.
But, recently, this theory has come under scientific challenge. Last year, in a breakthrough piece of research, Professor Kenneth Catania, an American neuroscientist, specialising in sonic phenomena, argued that the vibrations created by the best charmers, uncannily replicated those produced by moles. Moles are a worm’s worst nightmare, with the shovel-footed beasts able to eat their weight in worm every day.
Worm charming is not for the faint of heart; sometimes it requires tap dancing on a plank to the Star Wars theme song, and apparently new techniques continue to emerge.
According to the Telegraph:
The traditional, and still most popular technique is to stick a garden fork in the ground, and hit it with a stick. The consequent vibrations bring worms to the surface where they are collected by an assistant, known in competitive circles as a ghillie.
But the sport is rapidly evolving, with new methods emerging all the time. “You’ve always got to be thinking ahead,” says Helen Forster, 32, who tap dances on a plank to the theme from Star Wars. “Everyone’s looking for a breakthrough.”
No matter how you go about it, though, the thought of more than 500 worms surfacing in a three-by-three-meter plot is not so charming.
Image: flickr/ slappytheseal