Officials from Eisenhower State Park in Denison,Texas were surprised to find clumps of worms on the center line of a highway after recent floods swept the state. From a distance the worms look like splotches of spaghetti, but closer examination revealed thousands of worms aggregated in mini piles. But why were they hanging out on the road instead of fertilizing the Earth?
“The piles in the middle of Eisenhower State Park were actually worms,” Park Superintendent Ben Herman told ABC News. Rangers were checking the back roads of the park in Denison, Texas, on May 29 when they found the piles lined up in a near-perfect straight row. “We’re still puzzled why they decided to line up in the middle of the road,” Herman said. “Even our biologist doesn’t know why they’re spaced so well and in the line.”
Turns out, the center line is the highest point on the road, which was closed to traffic; the worms somehow figured out they could safely dry off without being squished by car tires.
Sharon Hill from DoubtfulNews.com looked into the case and found that, “Actually, research has been done on red wigglers that tend to clump in compost piles. Worms communicate by close contact with other. They may gather en masse when conditions are not quite right or in the open, then move, in a herd, to a safe location.”
Lest you underestimate the squiggly creatures, researchers published an article in the open access journal PLOS One decrying the absence of decent research about “a species with considerable economic importance, especially in waste management applications.”
“The formation of more or less stable groups of individuals is observed in diverse organisms, ranging from microorganisms to vertebrates,” they write. “Such groups may arise when individuals converge at a particular location via independent responses to environmental factors…such as the spatial distribution of food resources, predation pressure, habitat quality, light and temperature gradients, or other abiotic and biotic variables.”
It’s incredible to think the worms somehow understood they could leave the saturated Earth, which might have drowned them, to find temporary sanctuary on a stretch of tarmac. They eventually returned when the soil was safe again.
Via Discovery News
Images via Eisenhower State Park