With all of the rain we’ve had lately, my son Ezra and I have noticed a common sight dotting the sidewalks while we’re on our way to school in the mornings—earthworms. Most have baked into a crispy twig in the hot sun, but a few still have a little wriggle in them. Ezra rescues the live ones by transferring them to the grass and dirt running alongside the sidewalk. (His benevolence to the worms slows down our trek, but I can’t deny him the good feeling of starting a day of 3rd grade knowing you’ve made a difference!)
Ezra asked me why we’ve been seeing so many worms. Why do they come out of their safe burrows just to die on the sidewalk? It’s a good question. Other than drying out in the sun, they could also be eaten by birds or stepped on. Why would they risk it? I just had to find out! Google to the rescue!
From what I've read, it was commonly assumed that worms emerged after a lot of rain because they would drown in their underground tunnels. But more recent science disputes this. Worm scientists (that’s probably a thing) argue that worms are designed in a way that they could stay submerged underwater for days. Back to the worm lab (which is also probably a thing)!
One hypothesis speculates that the vibration of the rain dropping above them imitates the sound of a mole or some other worm-eating predator, and the worms crawl away from the anticipated danger. Another idea is that they use the slick, wet environment to migrate. I can just imagine the worms watching the weather forecast to see when the conditions would be favorable to travel so they could make a trip to visit grandma. (Okay, that’s definitely not a thing, even on the internet.) Another idea is that the worms surface to mate, but they (worm scientists) say only a few species do this, and knowing that worm babies don’t just appear out of nowhere but not wanting to google “Where do worm babies come from?” I left that hypothesis off my list for Ezra.
Even though a worm has no eyes or ears and a teeny-tiny brain, there are way too many similarities between us and them. We often ignore our protective design and take unnecessary risks. There are many times when we fear the wrong things (or people), and our panic makes everything much, much worse. But, if you’re a lucky earthworm, a sweet 10-year old boy will see that you’re stranded on the concrete, and even though you’re there by your own folly, he’ll lift you to safety.