Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Down came the rain and ...

It all started with the robins. Or with the rain. Anyhow, with the robins in the rain.

It rained steadily all day, and we stayed home, busying ourselves with "catch-up" chores. But I kept an eye on the windows, watching for birds and soggy squirrels. In the afternoon, a pair of robins showed up, hunting for worms in the wet grass.

Yes, I'm dripping wet. And not happy about it. But I've got a family to feed.

She chopped up each worm in several pieces, and carried it off, uneaten. In a few minutes she, or her mate, was back hunting again. Responsible parents, hard at work.

I set out the camera handy to my reach, and we drank our afternoon tea facing the window. Laurie saw the towhee first.

Don't you have any dry sunflower seeds?

Hey, they're not so bad wet, after all!

A while later, I thought I saw movement in the shrubbery, and sat down by the window to wait. Nothing came out, though; it was probably heavy raindrops shaking the lilies-of-the-valley. But out in the open, where there was nothing but a few rocks and a planter of tiny mosses, something was alive. Something tiny and elusive, here now, gone a moment later. Eventually, I realized what it was.

A snake-like creature was climbing on a metal bird on the rim of the moss planter. And searching; lifting its head and weaving from side to side. I set the camera on macro and went out in the rain.

It's giving up, and heading back down. I measured later; this section of the bird is a bit over 3 inches long. The worm must be about 4 inches, and almost hair-thin.

I captured the worm, set it on a piece of washed moss and clamped it into a double-sided picture frame. It immediately coiled into a tight circle. But when nothing more happened, it gradually unwound itself and went about exploring the moss. I watched for a long time; it described such slow, graceful loops and swirls that I was almost hypnotised. Finally, I set it outside, away from inside light and heat.

A nematode, or roundworm. Probably free-living.

Tonight, I brought it inside again. It wasn't moving; I thought it was dead, and gently pried it free of the moss. But when I laid it out on the glass under the light, it woke and began its dance again.

Watching it under the hand microscope (only 60x), I could see the individual cells. Along the central, dark section, they look like tiny brown balls or grains of sand. The rest of them are transparent, but the same size and shape. The head end (top in this photo) is pointier than the tail, but otherwise, they look the same; clear, with a more transparent tip.

I don't know what kind of roundworm this is; there are over 15,000 species of the beasties. Most of our soil residents are smaller than this, though.

And its gone outside again, to spend the night. In a damp and cold bed, just the way it likes it.


  1. Interesting, that worm. Amazing you saw it from your window. Your senses are well tuned!

  2. It's target-specific; Laurie always sees birds first. He saw and identified the towhee before I noticed anything. And I see the wrigglers.

  3. I wonder, could that be a horsehair worm (Nematomorpha)? Good spotting, whatever it is.

  4. Hugh, thanks. I think you're right. Everything lines up.

    It was still alive when I came home this afternoon, so I put it back out in the moss where it started from, since that page said it wasn't harmful, except to some insects.

  5. Anonymous5:45 am

    I just found the same type of worm in my flower bed (Michigan)wiggling slowly across the ground. I though it was a piece of hair/thread until I noticed it moving. I put it in a jar and went to my neighbors in which we found one on her plant doing a lasso type action. Curious I decided to research the worm to make sure it was not harmful to pets or humans. Thanks for your post.


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