LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Spring showers appear to have brought out the rare giant Palouse earthworm, a creature native to the Palouse Prairie that can grow up to a meter long.
Earthworm enthusiast Cass Davis of Moscow found three specimens of what he believes to be the giant earthworm last weekend while hiking along Paradise Ridge Road, reports the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1F3FzEr ).
"It's more than likely a giant Palouse earthworm, but we can't confirm that until we do the genetic analysis," said Chris Baugher, a University of Idaho doctoral candidate studying the species.
Rain seems to have brought the worms out, said Davis.
"I'm always looking for more specimens, and this year I found one every day right after the thunderstorms," he said. "They either rose to the surface or are washing out on the road."
The unusual worms were thought to be extinct until a UI researcher found one in 2005. Before that, they had not been seen since 1988. Most recent discoveries of the species come from the rare remnants of the Palouse Prairie.
Scientists believe the creature was harmed by the conversion of native prairies to agricultural production and the introduction of nonnative worms form Europe.
Although they are believed to be capable of growing up to a meter long, recent finds have averaged 12 inches.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to protect the worms under the Endangered Species Act, saying too little is known about the creature.
Davis, who is fighting to keep U.S. Highway 95 to be rerouted over Paradise Ridge, says that decision is disappointing.
"It's probably too late to have an impact on the highway thing," he said. "I really wish the Fish and Wildlife Service had listed the worm."
He says it is valuable for science to learn about unusual species, saying they hold unknown potential.
"We have no idea what the niche of the giant Palouse earthworm is. It could be essential to a particular plant. Who knows, he could be the cure for cancer, we know nothing about him," said Davis.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com