I came across this huge worm on a path through the forest at the back of Cibodas Botanical Gardens on the slopes of Mount Gede, a volcano in Java, Indonesia. At first I thought it was a slow-worm (reptile), but I gradually realised it was a giant earthworm. It was writhing about with one end lodged down a hole. I tried to pull it out (gently!) but the thicker, front (?) end was firmly lodged. I could however, see a strange yellow ‘tongue’ which was then retracted. Or was this what it was eating? It was at least 18 inches long and very thick. Paler on one side. It did not appear to be much bothered by being touched; it was engaged in some sort of behaviour (feeding?) and being so large it was probably immune to to being attacked by any birds or even smaller mammals. Is this why they are so large? Escaping predation?
There are reports of giant earthworms at high altitudes in Java and Borneo – but how much is known about them I don’t know. This was at an altitude of about 1, 400m. I will research the group more fully when I return home.
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.