Giant earthworms the size of snakes discovered on remote Scottish island

The rich, undisturbed soil and lack of predators at the Isle of Rum have allowed earthworms to grow to three times their ...
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The rich, undisturbed soil and lack of predators at the Isle of Rum have allowed earthworms to grow to three times their usual size.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Giant earthworms measuring three times their usual size, and weighing as much as a small mouse, have been discovered by scientists on the Isle of Rum, off Scotland.

Some are a whopping 41cm long, the size of a newly-hatched adder, having blossomed due to the rich soil on the Inner Hebrides and a lack of predators.

Dr Kevin Butt, lead researcher on the earthworm study by the University of Central Lancashire, said: "These things weigh about 12.5 grams – but the normal size is about four to five grams."

"When these things came out of their burrows they were like small snakes," he said.

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The worms, Lumbricus terrestris, were found at Papadil, an abandoned settlement on Rum. The island is the permanent home to just 30 people.

Dr Butt said that far from being the stuff of nightmares, the giant worms were "a delight" to discover as they are crucial to the ecosystem, and help reduce the risk of flooding.

"Without their activities we'd be a lot worse off. They're just as important as bees are in pollinating plants. They help aerate the soil and drain away water and stop surface erosion," he said.

He said the worms have an undisturbed habitat and good soil. Rum lacks predators such as badgers, moles, hedgehogs and foxes.

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Unlike most animals, earthworms keep growing if undisturbed. Dr Butt, who has been studying worms for 30 years, said: "These things have just have been left and have grown bigger and bigger."

He said visitors to Rum have little to fear: "If [the worms] feel footsteps they will just go down deeper into the earth. They're not going to jump out and grab people."

The discovery was published in The Glasgow Naturalist journal.

 - The Telegraph, London

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