Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Idaho Researcher Finds Rare Giant Palouse Earthworm

Date:
February 2, 2006
Source:
University Of Idaho
Summary:
University of Idaho graduate student Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon is apparently the first person in nearly two decades to find a specimen of the giant Palouse earthworm. The white, lily-scented denizen of the region's fertile, deep soils reportedly can grow to 3 feet long. The rolling hills of the Palouse sprawl across an estimated 2 million acres of north central Idaho and southeastern Washington.

The large, white worm at the top is the giant Palouse earthworm, Driloleirus americanus. Below is the southern worm or Aporrectodea trapezoides, which is considered an introduced species.
Credit: Photo Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon/University of Idaho (c) 2005

University of Idaho graduate student Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon is apparently the first person in nearly two decades to find a specimen of the giant Palouse earthworm.

The white, lily-scented denizen of the region’s fertile, deep soils reportedly can grow to 3 feet long. The rolling hills of the Palouse sprawl across an estimated 2 million acres of north central Idaho and southeastern Washington.

Sanchez-de Leon collected the 6-inch white worm from a remnant of Palouse prairie while studying earthworm populations and carbon dynamics in native prairie and retired farmland.

Northwest earthworm expert William M Fender-Westwind confirmed the identification of the worm Sanchez-de Leon found last May. His confirmation supported her initial identification and another by earthworm experts gathered for a workshop in her native Puerto Rico in November.

“This is exciting,” said James B. “Ding” Johnson, UI Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences Department head. “By earthworm standards, they’re pretty cool.”

“It’s good news that this rare and interesting species is still with us,” Johnson said. He and graduate student Paul Johnson are believed to be the last scientists to document a sighting of the worm.

In 1988, they found several worms in a forest clearing on nearby Moscow Mountain while rolling back moss in search of the pill beetles he studied. They sent two specimens to Portland, Ore.-based Fender-Westwind for confirmation.

Early observers reported the giant Palouse earthworms could grow 2- to 3 feet long, big but modest compared to relatives from Australia that can reach 10 feet long.

Sanchez-de Leon discovered the worm last spring while digging the last of five pits in the Washington State University’s Smoot Hill Ecological Preserve near Palouse, Wash.

To collect samples, she dug five small pits, each about 10 inches square and 12 inches deep. While digging the day’s last pit, she noticed the flash of white in soil about 4 inches deep – and came up with part of the worm. Another shovelful held the rest.

“I noticed it immediately,” she said. “It’s very white and the anterior part is pink near the mouth.” Two UI environmental science students, Katherine Smetak and Juan F. Villa-Romero, joined her on the collecting trip.

Sanchez-de Leon is studying at the University of Idaho through the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. As part of the joint program with Costa Rica’s Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, she studied earthworm abundance in a coffee plantation during a summer internship there.

Although early reports say the worms have a lily-like scent when handled, neither Johnson nor Sanchez recalled detecting it.

Jodi Johnson-Maynard, UI assistant professor of soil and water management, said relocating the giant Palouse earthworm may offer another opportunity to learn more about its behavior and ecology.

Scientists suspect more than a century of intensive cultivation of the Palouse for wheat and other crops triggered the white worm’s rarity. Johnson-Maynard said another possibility is that the worm was always rare.

The giant Palouse earthworm might also be suffering from competition with European earthworms that reached the area with settlers as stowaways on plants.

“So it’s an incredibly interesting find and maybe it will allow us to say more about where and how it lives,” Johnson-Maynard said.

Three years of samples showed European earthworms live in far larger numbers in the prairie remnant, Sanchez-de Leon said. The largest numbers live in the farmland idled through long-term contracts under the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

Earthworms play important roles in soil health, transferring plant debris from the surface deeper in the soil and digging tunnels that allow air and water to penetrate.

Sanchez-de Leon said she plans to return to Smoot Hill this spring to search for the giant Palouse earthworm again. Johnson’s experience suggests they’re no easier to find the second time around.

“We went back a few years ago, about 15 of us from UI and WSU, and spent a rainy day looking in the exact same place but we didn’t find any,” he said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Idaho. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Idaho. "Idaho Researcher Finds Rare Giant Palouse Earthworm." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060202081127.htm>.
University Of Idaho. (2006, February 2). Idaho Researcher Finds Rare Giant Palouse Earthworm. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060202081127.htm
University Of Idaho. "Idaho Researcher Finds Rare Giant Palouse Earthworm." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060202081127.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

AP (Sep. 20, 2014) The San Diego Zoo has welcomed two Cheetah cubs to its Safari Park. The nearly three-week-old female cubs are being hand fed and are receiving around the clock care. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins