See Inside March 2010

Worm Charmers

As Charles Darwin had suspected, earthworms that flee from ground vibrations do so to escape hungry moles—even though sometimes it is humans chasing them

Courtesy of Kenneth Catania

If you happen to be hiking in the right part of Florida at dawn, you might catch the sound of a predator hidden in the vegetation. Surely an alligator must be the source of these calls, you say to yourself. But the sound does not come from an alligator, or a mother bear, or some newly introduced predator from the Amazon. It comes from a human predator—a “worm grunter.”

Worm grunters have mastered the art of charming worms out of their burrows so they can be collected and sold as bait. First, the hunters pound a stob, or wooden stake, into the soil, and then they rub the stake with a flat piece of metal called a rooping iron. The vibrations resonate through the ground. In response, hundreds of large earthworms emerge, some as far as 12 meters from the baiter.

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