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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
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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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