Would seeing 16-inch-long snake-like earthworms strike fear in the heart of Indiana Jones? How about in the hearts of bass and catfish? Scottish scientists recently discovered scores of these incredible invertebrates digging their way to the bottom of the Isle of Rum and are wondering how that happened. Wait, what? There’s an Isle of Rum off the coast of Scotland? How did THAT happen?
According to a study published in The Glasgow Naturalist, scientists from the Earthworm Research Group at the University of Central Lancashire, led by Dr. Kevin Butt, found the giant earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) in an abandoned settlement called Papadil on the Isle of Rum, which itself is nearly abandoned with a population of only 30 people. Also not found on the Isle of Rum are the natural enemies of giant earthworms (besides fishermen and brave robins) – badgers, moles, hedgehogs and foxes.
Combine all of that with the island’s rich soil and you have a place where earthworms can grow to a record size, at least for the United Kingdom. Yes, they’re smaller than the 6-foot-long Gippsland earthworms of Australia, but that’s because … Australia! Worm guy Dr. Butt says his Rum earthworms can get even bigger – he’s raised some in the lab that reached 20 grams in weight (.75 ounces).
Could these monster earthworms be the reason why there’s so few people on the Island of Rum? Should Indiana Jones stay away? It’s safe, says Dr. Butt.
If they feel footsteps they will just go down deeper into the earth. They’re not going to jump out and grab people.
Now, about that name. The ancient island has been inhabited since 8000 BCE and the name “Rum” may have been derived from the Old Norse word for “wide island” or the Gaelic word for “isle of the ridge” or the Gaelic word for “spacious island.” This being Scotland, everyone naturally associates the name with the liquor of the non-Scotch kind, including one-time island owner Sir George Bullough who tried to avoid harassment by changing it for a time to Rhum. Needless to say, with only 30 residents, it’s doubtful there’s any rum on Rum.
Unless they make it out of giant earthworms. Could they use them for Mezcal?