Worm Vibrators

Made you look! I wanted my first topic post to be something worthy of the Straight Dope - a bit weird, humorous, and interesting. OK, here goes, the topic is: Worm Charming, aka Worm Fiddling. First, get your minds out of the gutter! I’m talking earthworms here.

Thumbing through my old 1994 copy of the Guinness Book of Records, I noticed a record of 511 worms charmed out of the ground (a 9.84 sq. ft. plot) in 30 minutes. This record is held by Tom Shufflebotham and accomplished at the first World Worm Charming Championship in Willaston, Great Britain in 1980. “Garden forks or other implements are vibrated in the soil by competitors to coax up the worms, but water is banned.”

Question 1: Why would vibrations cause worms to come to the surface?

Question 2: What are the detailed instructions for doing this? I’m enjoying the thought of the Teeming Millions perking up their backyard cookouts demonstrating this for their friends.

There seems to be very little information about this on the net, other than a few sites that list these competitions as tourist attractions. The Straight Dope seems to be the only place to obtain this information. I’m hopeful that someone can shed some light on this vital topic! Thanks.

I thought the reason worms tend to surface when someone taps the ground above them was because they think the sound is rain. Not wanting to drown in their little holes, they come up for air…but this could well be nonsense.

This isn’t exactly on the topic, but it does talk about wormies and heavy rains. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/941014.html

Thanks for the information folks. From the link, it appears that worms may surface for mating, rather than to avoid drowning. As a side issue, what happens to the worms in flooded areas?

The questions remain. Why do the vibrations work? I assume worms must just feel the vibrations with their bodies. Why would they take that as a signal of rain instead of, say, the dirt they’re crawling through getting wet? And how do I vibrate a garden fork to sound like rain or whatever?

It appears that the Teeming Millions must come crawling to Uncle Cecil to get the dirt on this groundbreaking phenomenon. I trust Cecil will not try to wiggle off the hook. Till then, should we poor sods keep on plowing along, or should we cut the debate and go fishing for a new angle on this?

Vibrators work because the worms think it’s an earthquake. :wink: Actually its because male worms are lousy lovers :smiley:

Nice one, but it’s even kinkier than that. IIRC, earthworms are fully equipped with both male and female reproductive organs!

Are you positive these were merely tuning forks?

Back in the small town I grew up in the popular way to get nightcrawlers for fishing was to plant two metal rods into softpacked soil, then connect them to an old fashioned crank telephone. The electrical current was small enough not to kill them, but plenty to coax them out of the damp earth.

If you read my response to Thewiz’s question about getting rid of birds, you might get the idea Pennsylvania folk aren’t big on animal rights…


inky… I have heard of the electrical stimulation of making earthworms come to the surface myself though I have heard it with a car battery.

Mike… very very punny!!! made me laugh!

“Boy, wouldja get a load of the cloaca on that one”? -Cecil Adams “october 8 1999”

Different method of ‘worm calling’ in Alabama - drive a stake into the ground, then rub a board of some kind back and forth across the top. This makes the stake vibrate and the worms come to the top - I have no idea why, but they do.

We were too poor to own tuning forks - or even know what one was.

The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. - Henry Van Dyke

I could be completely wrong, but isn’t it earthworms whos sole sensory process is sensing vibrations through its skin? My high school biology wasn’t the greatest, but I remember something like this about earthworms or some other such slimy creature. As always, criticism is welcome, unless it’s mean. :wink:

The only thing a nonconformist hates more than a conformist is another nonconformist who does not conform to the prevailing standards of nonconformity.

Another way to do it is to drive a stake into the ground and use a “leaf spring” which are layers of metal bolted together. They spring looks kind of like a series of steps, and running it across the stake produces the vibrations.

Glad to get the confirmation that this stuff works! Any information on how deep the stake needs to be in the ground, or how long it takes?

I’ll have to get out in the back yard and experiment for myself. That ought to really impress the neighbors.

Glad you enjoyed the puns, B_Line12. I’ll post some more in a bit. Thanks everyone!

This is off the subject, but it reminds me of something we called “telephoning for catfish.”

You have a hand-cranked electric generator, and you toss two leads into the water. Start cranking and it drives the catfish crazy.

They come to the surface, and you just scoop them up with a net.

Highly illegal, too, BTW.

What an excellent first post…
I cant wait to try it…its so wierd!

Maybe the worms little ears hurt and they are trying to escape the vibrations.

When I was a kid, they teased me for a couple of years because I used to ‘save’ the worms that had crawled onto the pavement at night by tossing them back in the grass before they dried out.

Kelli- I still do that!


As kids we used to take a swim tube and put it on the ground. Then two of us would stand on the tube across from each other, grab hands and jump up and down together. This would bring worms to the serface and then our dad’s would use them for fishing.

Thank you, kellibelli, for the kind words. I feel very honored!

Just imagine all the Teeming Millions fiddling for worms. Kinda gross, but very interesting. If anyone gives this a whirl, I’d love to hear about it.

So far, it seems like all kinds of vibrations will work to bring worms to the surface, but there’s no solid explanation of just why it works. Pain or hermaphrodite sex in the mud seem to be the leading theories. This is definitely the right stuff for the Straight Dope.

Warning: As promised earlier, more puns follow. Thanks everyone!

What unearthly reactions have surfaced! No dirty looks, flipping early birds, or calling me a clod. Just wave soundly and dig the good vibes here. I was only hoping that Cecil could uncover the truth about this underground movement. Cecil is obviously well grounded in earth sciences, and this scoop could add to his unsoiled reputation, unless he considers the subject to be beneath him.