Britain’s largest earthworms discovered by UCLan researchers

WRIGGLE ROOM: The natural habitat which encourages the massive worms found by UCLan researchers
WRIGGLE ROOM: The natural habitat which encourages the massive worms found by UCLan researchers
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Talk about worming your way into the record books!

University researchers from Preston have uncovered Britain’s largest earthworms.

UCLan's Prof Kevin Butt

UCLan's Prof Kevin Butt

The University of Central Lancashire academics are working on the remote Scottish Isle of Rum where they’ve found common worms three times the size of the standard garden variety.

These common species Lumbricus terrestris weigh up to 12.7 grams and measure nearly 40cm, more than three times the weight and length of the average sized earthworm in the UK.

The UCLan team has been on the island, in the inner Hebrides, which is managed for conservation and has been described as an “outdoor laboratory” due to the intense study of its nature.

Between 2006 and 2011 UCLan researchers investigated what was thought to be some very large worm burrows.

Further investigation led to the discovery of the worms so they started studying the surrounding area to find out why their size had been affected.

Kevin Butt, professor at the University of Central Lancashire who led the study said: “I first noticed the large worm burrows in 2005, so I had my suspicions that there may be some pretty big worms in the area. We went back out to investigate this the following year and finding worms of this size was very exciting, especially when the Natural History Museum team confirmed that they had no specimens like this.”

It is thought that because there are no predators on the island, combined with incredibly fertile soil, the worms are free from danger and have optimum conditions to live in, so they are able to become huge in comparison to other worms.

The average life span of an earthworm is only a couple of years, but because these particular worms have a better chance of survival it is thought that they could be up to 10 years old.

Prof Butt added: “There are still unanswered questions and we plan to continue our research to find out as much as possible about these creatures.

“We’re also looking forward to exploring more rural areas in the UK and abroad, in the hope that we will make more exciting discoveries like this.”

Details of the research has been published in the Scottish peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Glasgow Naturalist.