Harvesting earthworms by a practice called 'worm grunting' is a widespread and profitable business in the southeastern USA. Although a variety of techniques are used, most involve rhythmically scraping a wooden stake driven into the ground, with a flat metal object. A common assumption is that vibrations cause the worms to surface, but this phenomenon has not been studied experimentally. We demonstrate that Diplocardia earthworms emerge from the soil within minutes following the onset of grunting. Broadband low frequency (below 500 Hz) pulsed vibrations were present in the soil throughout the area where worms were harvested, and the number of worms emerging decreased as the seismic signal decayed over distance. The findings are discussed in relation to two hypotheses: that worms are escaping vibrations caused by digging foragers and that worms are surfacing in response to vibrations caused by falling rain.

Earthworm, Escape, Moles, Rain, Vibration
dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2008.0456
Biology Letters
Department of Biology

Mitra, O. (O.), Callaham Jr., M.A. (M. A.), Smith, M, & Yack, J. (2009). Grunting for worms: Seismic vibrations cause Diplocardia earthworms to emerge from the soil. Biology Letters, 5(1), 16–19. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0456