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Palouse Earthworm

Palouse Earthworm

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Environmentalists have asked the Obama administration to declare the three-foot-long, highly aromatic Palouse earthworm an endangered species, reversing the Bush administration's mystifying refusal to protect them.Scientifically known as Driloleirus americanus, or "lily-smelling American worm," the Palouse earthworm was once abundant in the prairies of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

But sightings became less common as accidentally-imported European earthworms tunneled under their grassland habitat, which now covers just two percent of its historic range.By 2005, when a University of Idaho researcher accidentally dug one up, the Palouse earthworm was thought to be extinct.

It was the first seen in seven years, and one of a handful seen in the last several decades.

Environmentalists asked the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the Palouse earthworm endangered.

In a conservation twist on Donald Rumsfeld's infamous "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," the agency declined, saying that not enough information existed to justify the decision.

The agency then refused to study the worms any further.Local environmental groups and the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity hope that the Obama-era Fish and Wildlife Service will prove more receptive to their petition, which was formally filed with the agency yesterday.Since the original decision, several Palouse earthworms were found in north-central Washington, well outside the worms' expected range.

The findings have excited researchers, who hope to exchange their shovels for better worm-finding tools.

One proposed method involves saturating ground around suspected burrows with hot mustard and vinegar, thus flushing them into the open.Maybe they should call in some worm grunters.Image: Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon/University of IdahoSee Also:Darwin, Earthworms and the Importance of IndividualityGiant Earthworms Could Become the New Spotted OwlBrandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter.
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