Saturday, 8 September 2012

Worm Rescue

Around here on rainy days we have to leave a bit of extra time to get to school. Not because of raincoats and boots, not because of traffic, and not because (ok, not entirely because) of jumping in puddles. It’s because of worm rescue.

If it’s been raining for a while there are usually a large number of earthworms on our driveway, which must be rescued from a potentially gruesome squishy demise from our car. The same goes for the school parking lots and the sidewalk up to school. Bunny wants to be an animal doctor (worms and insects are included in her definition of “animal”) and Beans thinks Diego ranks in the same realm as Batman (and she loves them both dearly), so not rescuing every single worm possible is unthinkable.

So the question was posed – why are all the worms out in the rain? If you think about it - they are creating a veritable buffet out of themselves for the robins and getting stepped on a lot. Those that don’t make it back to the lawns after the rain end up as worm jerky. Funnily enough, watching robins eat the worms is another favourite pastime which seems contradictory to this one but as Bunny put it “some of them are supposed to get eaten by robins, the robins won’t want them all squished”. It’s a valid point, I wouldn’t want my breakfast run over by a car first either.

So the question still stands though, why are all the worms out in rain? The original school of thought was that they came out to prevent themselves from drowning but recent research has shown otherwise. In fact, earthworms can survive several days underwater and require moisture in the soil for survival. So what is their real reason for surfacing? Migration! The surface moisture provides a quick mode of transportation for longer distances that isn’t available on sunny days. Or as Bunny put it “they have slime, they can’t slide on dry.” Though it seems worm evolution hasn’t yet caught up with the invention of pavement.

Another reason may be escaping predation – the vibration mimics that of underground predators and they surface to escape (only to be eaten by robins, so unfortunately it doesn’t always work out for them).

Even cooler? Research published in the journal Ethology showed earthworms swarming and using touch to communicate and make group decisions!

So there you have it. While I always knew the worm’s important place in terms of soil health and breakdown, I underestimated the complexity of their existence. Worms migrate, survive underwater, form herds and “research confirmed that social cues among earthworms influence behavior.” Not so different from us (well, except for the surviving underwater part – they’ve got us beat there).

I, for one, am going to treat the humble earthworm with a lot more respect from now on and perhaps rescue a few myself, even if the girls aren’t around.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

the start of the blog


After much cajoling and prodding I have started this blog. My mother’s persistence that I start writing again has finally caused me to fold and just do it, which I hope that she doesn’t take as license to now start making me finish that book I started. Writing has always been a hobby, and was for a while a job when needed, so it didn’t take too much of a shove to suck me back in.

So most of you are probably wondering - why are you blogging anyway? Who are Beans and Bunny and why on earth are they outside? Well, there’s no simple answer to any of that, but then life rarely has simple answers.

If I’m going to dump my rambling here on a regular basis you might as well get a bit of background. I’m a biologist by trade and general science nerd by nature. I have two little girls (Beans and Bunny – see, it’s starting to make sense now) and I love (in no particular order) my family, nature, tea, camping, swimming, hockey, dark chocolate, music, mashed potatoes, reading and life in general. My girls like all those things too (even the tea) and would add in “anything pink and sparkly”. This amuses my family to no end, as I was dead set against anything remotely pink or sparkly as a child. One of my favourite pictures of Bunny is her standing in our backyard next to her toy lawnmower. She is wearing a pink tutu, has grass and dirt stained knees (from “fixing” the mower) and is holding a beautiful blue iridescent beetle she’s found. It just encompasses everything I want for my kids and most importantly the idea that you can be girly and naturey all at once.

Every day my girls amaze me with their observations on the world around them and their eagerness to learn about what they find.  I’m going to show you their thoughts about our outside, with some of my own nerdiness thrown in for good measure.

And so it begins.