Of Moles and Men (and worms)

"Worm grunting" is a curious but popular practice for harvesting earthworms in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest. To summon earthworms to the surface, worm grunters drive a wooden stake into the soil and vibrate it. Panicked worms pour out of the ground and thousands can be gathered in just a few hours. Lifelong worm grunters (and there are families that have been professional worm grunters for multiple generations) have a variety of theories regarding the underlying mechanisms of their trade. However, Kenneth Catania, a researcher from Vanderbilt, has come up with an explanation to this vexing mystery that has kept so many of us lying awake in our beds night after night after night: the vibrations mimic the movements of a hungry mole, the earthworm's arch nemesis.

Grunt like a mole, boy!

A worm grunter marks the location where he "done seen worms"

These interesting conclusions are summed up nicely in the PLoS One abstract:

"Previous investigations have revealed that both wood turtles and herring gulls vibrate the ground to elicit earthworm escapes, indicating that a range of predators may exploit the predator-prey relationship between earthworms and moles. In addition to revealing a novel escape response that may be widespread among soil fauna, the results show that humans have played the role of 'rare predators' in exploiting the consequences of a sensory arms race."

The mole was not amused

Thanks to Chris "Good Ol' Boy" Cleveland, worm grunting and enterprise search guru, for sharing.

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Interesting. I wonder how severe and sustained predation by worm grunters would have to be in order to produce a worm population that tends to ignore vibrations?

Suddenly, Frank Herbert's Dune makes a lot more sense.

Dear Internets (and NOT the Bleimans*),

Please stop finding stories like this based in Florida. The FARK page is bad enough, the Palin Clearwater rallies were utterly depressing, and Insect Prof's utter failure to grasp the double-edged humor inherent to the site virtually guarantees he's Florida-based. Seriously, it's bad enough growing up here and just suspecting things about your home state suck, but having the point pounded home on every news source you frequent is just far, far too much.


*Also Bleimans, attracting trolls means you are Now Famous. Ignore it, and toast your hard-earned notoriety. Just ask PZ Myers.

I watched a Youtube video and the way they generate the vibration, with a wooden plank and a piece of metal, is fairly labor-intensive (and it does not appear to be the most effective method either). Do you think it would be possible to accomplish this in a more productive fashion - with help of batery-powered dildos? Because if it worked, they could plant a whole plot of the forrest grounds with dildos - the pounding would have to be done only once and from then on they would just need to switch them on occasionally and collect their bounty. (Maybe they could sell those videos also).

Zooillogix is the best! Thanks guys

By insect prof (not verified) on 16 Oct 2008 #permalink

Holy crap, I had no idea moles were so terrifying!

I don't blame the worms for panicking. Pretty much anything would be better than to die at the "hands" of that awful mole thing.

everyone is one this story. I'm being scooped by everybody. I heard Ken Cattania speak this summer at the ISBE meeting. It was the best Plenary talk I have EVER listened to. He showed these videos about mole/shrew hunting behavior and worm grunting. The neatest!!!