Archive for February, 2019

Winter rains are sources of terrific fun at my house. My daughter and I love rain walks, and now that she is getting used to a larger bike, rain bike rides are becoming another fun activity to add into the mix.

Earthworm 01During a recent rain walk, we were peering into puddles to see what we could see when we spotted a few earthworms submerged in the water.

“Uh oh,” I said “Let’s rescue those worms so they don’t drown.”

“Worms don’t drown.” Said my daughter.

“They don’t?” I asked.

“No, they don’t drown when it rains.” She answered.

I will confess, I was doubtful about this. I have grown up knowing that earthworms come out of the soil when it rains because all their tunnels are flooded. I have also grown up knowing that if earthworms wander into a pool of water, they will drown. So, asked my daughter where she had heard that earthworms don’t drown. She told me that she had been watching a nature show, and that it included a section on earthworms, and it included the information that earthworms don’t drown in water. I was surprised to hear this, and was still a little skeptical.

When we got back to the house, we were telling my wife about our adventures, and the worms came up. My wife also said how sad it was to see worms drown in the rain, and my daughter jumped in with the information about worms not drowning. My wife was as surprised as I was having grown up with the same information on this topic that I did.

But, my daughter was sure she was right, and when we did a little online search it turned out she was absolutely right to be so sure.

Earthworms Don’t Drown!

I could not have been more proud of my daughter at this point. She knew she was right and stuck to her guns. And she taught me that something I had believed was true was actually false, and replaced that false information with truth. So proud!

Here is the new information I learned.

Earthworm 02Earthworms need moisture to breath, which they do through their skin. As long as there is sufficient oxygen dissolved in the water, worms can survive for extended periods of time (we are talking three days or more) completely submerged with no ill effect. No one is completely sure why earthworms emerge from the soil when it rains, but one of the leading hypotheses is that they are taking advantage of the moisture above ground to disperse into new habitats and find new mates. The rain allows them to move across areas that would otherwise be too dry and/or too far away for them the reach when it is not raining.

So, if you see some worms wandering around on the surface the next time it rains, maybe crossing the sidewalk, give them a hand and help them on their journey. But, don’t worry that they have been forced out of their burrows by the threat posed by all the water. Because, as my daughter taught me, they don’t drown!


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Wisdom 03

Wisdom and her chick, Kukini.

Wisdom is a female Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) that has become pretty famous, and rightly so. As the species specific portion of her scientific name suggests, she is immutable, unchanging, indelible, persistent. Wisdom is the oldest known wild bird in the world! She is 68 years old!

And at 68 years of age, she is a mom once again! Her 31st chick, named Kukini, has just recently hatched on Midway atoll.

Wisdom 04

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai

Wisdom has returned again and again to the tinny island named Midway Atoll northwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. An extensive colony of Laysan Albatross nest on Midway, and Wisdom has joined that colony repeatedly over the years. She has had several mates over the course of those years, and her current partner in success is an albatross named Akeakamai.

Both Wisdom’s age, and her reproductive success are really incredible. Banded as an adult bird in the 1950s by the late great Chan Robbins who was a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, she has exceeded the lifespan of all other known wild birds. Birds do not age, physically, in the same way that humans do, so Wisdom looks just about exactly the same now as she did 50 years ago. And that she is still reproducing is a testament to how amazing of avian biology is. Another way birds and human age differently is that birds do not loose the ability to reproduce as they age. A human in their 60s is generally going to be past their reproductive age, however the reproductive abilities of albatross in their 60s seem to be unphased.

Albatross pairs only have one egg each year, and individuals often skip years and don’t breed at all. Once hatched, the young birds take longer and average for a bird to reach maturity and start breeding themselves. The low reproductive rates of all the albatross species means that each young bird is a significant contribution to the future of the species. Wisdom is definitely doing her part!

So, check in with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that is monitoring the albatross populations on Midway Atoll, and see how the amazing Wisdom is doing this year!



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