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This weird trick will help you summon an army of worms - Kenny Coogan


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In the middle of Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest, a bizarre, almost magical scene is unraveling. Sliding a metal strip over a wooden stake, a master summoner is sending deep croaking noises reverberating throughout the area. And, as if in a trance, hundreds of earthworms begin emerging from the soil. What’s going on? Kenny Coogan explores the tradition known as worm grunting.

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  • Video created by TED-Ed
  • Lesson Plan created by Earth School Partners
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Under the longleaf pines of the Apalachicola National Forest, for over 100 years, fishermen have been magically summoning an army of worms to use as bait. Historically, a model T ford could have been used. In the recent past: chain saws. Today, by law, only hand tools are allowed.

Worm grunters drive a 2-foot stob (a wooden peg or stake) into the ground and rub metal against it. Talented individuals, who have learned the art from their ancestors, can summon 3-4,000 nearly foot-long worms in a few hours.

After World War II, recreational fishing and the demand for bait increased. In the 60s and 70s worm grunting became so profitable that the IRS started investigating unreported incomes. Local economies developed around worm grunting and Florida’s panhandle became the epicenter.

It’s such a cultural phenomenon that the town of Sopchoppy, Florida hosts an annual worm grunting festival. Called the Worm Gruntin’ Festival, it features live music, a Worm Grunter’s Ball, food vendors, a 5-K race, arts and crafts, and a ceremony to crown the annual Worm Gruntin’ King and Queen. The first festival took place in 2000.

Charles Darwin was obsessed with earthworms himself and remarked that they sometimes left their burrows when the ground trembled. Over a century ago, Darwin tested worms’ sense of hearing by loudly playing a metal whistle, bassoon, and piano, but all this boisterousness didn’t elicit a response. However, when Darwin placed the worms on the piano, they appeared to be extremely sensitive to the vibrations it produced. This is because worms don’t have ears, but they do take in information through touch, by sensing vibrations.

And in his notes, Darwin alluded to an interesting hypothesis: worms flee the ground in response to vibrations because they “believe they are being pursued by a mole.”

Darwin tried beating the soil with a spade but didn’t get results, though he admitted he may have hit the ground “too violently.” Darwin had essentially attempted worm grunting, but apparently, he’d botched the job. Fast forward many years later–Catania decided to pick up where Darwin left off and further investigate the mole hypothesis. Learn more and Dr. Catania and his lab here.

Want to learn more about the ways in which humans and worms interact? See our video on Vermicomposting.

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About Earth School

Earth School is an immersive learning adventure to celebrate our planet, and understand what we need to do to save it. Now more than ever, we need to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, and turn these ideas into action. Each lesson in Earth School has been selected to help you build an understanding of how our planet works and exactly what it’s going to take to save it. Complete quizzes to build a custom learning library, and complete 30 lessons to get a certificate. Visit Earth School.

Meet The Creators

  • Video created by TED-Ed
  • Lesson Plan created by Earth School Partners