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April 10, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Earthworms are social animals after all, and now they're communicating. Time to run for the hills!
posted by Juicy Avenger (28 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, wait, they communicate through touch? That seemed kind of thinly supported. Got a link to the paper? That they travel in the same direction seems like it could be explained by all sorts of stuff, like soil condition and whatnot.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2010


The end is near!
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:29 PM on April 10, 2010


I keep imagining a squirmy version of the Bunny-Hop as the earthworm herd moves through the dirt. I've always thought they were cute, and this isn't helping.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: Not that I have access to but here is the abstract

I assume in the controlled experiments the soil condition of the two different routes is as identical as possible. Plus the second one showed that there was no consensus of routes to take when it was one worm at a time. As far as I know tactile communication of worms and reptiles has not really been considered, at least in the way we understand with mammals and even insects, like ants touching feelers and stuff. Though I once read that sometimes when an ant finds a new food source it will simply hit or run into another ant to get its attention. Maybe the worms are just going "hey schmuck, this'a way!"
posted by Juicy Avenger at 12:53 PM on April 10, 2010


Groovy!
posted by fuq at 12:55 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, we know they crawl in to play pinochle on our snouts, so this isn't a huge surprise.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:57 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yet if two worms were placed together at the start of the maze, they were more likely to follow one another, suggesting that they used touch to communicate where they were going.

also, suggesting that it's energetically less costly to get through a particulate medium when some other worm expends his energy breaking a trail for you. I wonder how they controlled for that in their experimental design.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:10 PM on April 10, 2010


So, the researchers did not in fact find a new sound?
This would seem to directly contradict earlier research.
posted by blenderfish at 1:16 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also check out From Ants to People, an Insect to Swarm
posted by iamkimiam at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2010


Are they posting their status at NoFaceAtAllBook?
posted by tommasz at 2:05 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


No, but they're all over Digg.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Previously...
posted by bicyclefish at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2010


I like the idea of earthworm herds. Once we figure out how to drive them, we can have earthworm rodeos!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:53 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or miniature Dune reenactments!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:57 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or miniature Dune reenactments!
Darn, somebody beat me to the reference. Speaking of Dune the movie, maybe enough time has passed for someone to attempt a remake? On the big screen it might be cool in 3-D.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:18 PM on April 10, 2010


Or not so minature (the Giant Gippsland earthworm can reach 4 meters)
posted by 445supermag at 4:06 PM on April 10, 2010


The photo of the ball 'o worms was seriously gross
posted by angrycat at 4:26 PM on April 10, 2010


"also, suggesting that it's energetically less costly to get through a particulate medium when some other worm expends his energy breaking a trail for you. I wonder how they controlled for that in their experimental design."

They also tried putting in a worm after another worm had already been in and made a trail but had since been removed. Apparently the worms only went the same way when they were both in the dirt at the same time.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:49 PM on April 10, 2010


At least this time the BBC science crew isn't reporting that OMG THEY ARE USING LANGUAGE.

c f
posted by fontor at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2010


kuujjuarapik: "also, suggesting that it's energetically less costly to get through a particulate medium when some other worm expends his energy breaking a trail for you."
That idea makes the most sense to me, FWIW. That's exactly what geese do when they fly in a "V" formation, right? They take turns at the tip since that's where the most drag is. I've no idea how earthworms would alternate at the lead spot, though. A bit tougher to hop around one another in soil than air.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:31 PM on April 10, 2010


OMG THEY ARE USING LANGUAGE

actual recording
posted by various at 12:30 AM on April 11, 2010


Didn't these people see Tremors, or something?
posted by Dub at 5:56 AM on April 11, 2010


Apparently the worms only went the same way when they were both in the dirt at the same time.

But does this suggest communication, or simply riding another worms coattails?

Due to my library's restricted access to this journal I have to wait another 6 months to read the full paper. So these questions may well be addressed there. But the conclusions seem to me to be weakly supported by evidence as given in the BBC article. For instance, we know the soil conditions were the same in the two-arm trial, but what about compass direction? It's possible that earthworms have some magnetic sense of direction and just head north when exposed. Then they would all travel together, and no communication is necessary.

It just seems to me that these researchers are calling any behavior that the worms do together is the result of communication, when there are numerous other reasons for that behavior which might be a little less complex.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:06 AM on April 11, 2010


FWIW, Mr SLC says that, back in the day, Rocky and Bullwinkle herded worms across the southwest desert on pogo sticks.
This is scientific proof enough for me.
Links appreciated.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:32 AM on April 11, 2010


Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk talk that ought to crawl.
posted by SPrintF at 9:58 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Repeat after me: I, sir, am a wiggly worm, sir.
posted by pracowity at 10:11 AM on April 11, 2010


This reminds me of one of my favorite later episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. http://mst3k.wikia.com/wiki/Squirm

"You gonna be da worm face!"
posted by willie11 at 5:28 PM on April 11, 2010


Hey, remember the icky North Carolina Sewer Monster? It's a bunch of worms!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:37 PM on April 26, 2010


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