Monday, March 26, 2007


We have a new pet!
A worm. Named Tater.

Saturday was very rainy. What my mom and I call a "wet rain."
(note: Those of you in this area may know what I mean by this. My husband is from the midwest and thinks using the word wet to describe rain is redundant.)
It was the kind of day that brings worms to the surface of the earth, and Ben happened upon one while playing outside.
(note: children in this area are encouraged to play outside when it's rainy. They are not made of sugar and will not melt.)

Ben, though he is fascinated by them, is not a fan of bugs - but he's a little less afraid of the lowly worm. He came running into the kitchen Saturday afternoon and exclaimed,
"Mom! I made a house for a worm!"
to which I enthusiastically replied,
"That's great, honey! Where?"
"On the patio!"
uh, the patio?
"Really? Wow, show me..."
Yup. There on the patio, under a house of grass and small fir twigs was a stressed out, translucent worm.
"Oh, Ben, worms need to be on the dirt, they can't dig a tunnel into the concrete here on the patio, we need to put him back over here on the dirt."
Then it happened. The Question.
"Well, can I keep him? As a pet?"
Initially, my answer was no. We don't keep wild things as pets, and worms are (in theory) "wild things." But then I relented. Part of it was because, well, worms are a dime a... no, wait, they're ***free*** but also because ever since Buddy died Ben has had a rash of "imaginary pets" including imaginary Buddy. Having a pet that he'd be responsible for would be good for Ben. And really, how hard can a worm be?

We got online to look up everything we need to know regarding worm husbandry. To tell you the truth, it's pretty fascinating. Perhaps you thought (like we did) that worms come to the surface during wet weather to escape drowning. Not so: worm skin needs to stay wet in order for the worms to breathe, so rainy and/or humid weather affords the worm a rare chance for a change of scenery, it being far easier and faster to travel over land than to tunnel through it. They are essentially migrating. (fascinating!) Another fact that I found quite interesting is that most North American earthworms are strangers in a strange land:
Experts believe most native species were wiped out wherever glaciers covered the land. Most earthworms we see today were imported mainly from Europe by early settlers. The worms or worm cocoons traveled in the rootstocks of plants brought by the settlers from their homelands. Europeans added soil, with its earthworms or worm cocoons, to ships for ballast. Once anchored in North American harbors, ships released their ballast -and living worms, who found new homes.
Who knew?!

But back to poor stressed out Tater. I remember in 5th grade some boys in my class did a "science" experiment with worms where they put the worms into a jar with some damp paper towels. The worms ate the damp paper, which pushed all the dirt out of their systems leaving a semi transparent worm, inner workings exposed, (yep, worms are brown - because of all the DIRT) and then they could do scientific drawings and other scientific research on the innerds of worms. I retrieved a canning jar and some damp paper towels from the kitchen figuring it would make a satisfactory temporary home for Tater until we could build him a terrarium or some other such luxury accomodations. We cut a strip of brown paper to encircle the jar, because apparently they become paralyzed if exposed to strong light for more than an hour (see above link, more fascinitaing worm facts!) and I cut a rather flimsy circle out of the brown paper, punched some air holes in the top and called it good.

We brought Tater into the house. Ben set him up on the little table next to his bed, but come bed time announced that he didn't really want Tater to sleep with him. Upon questioning, he informed us that he's afraid of bugs and Tater is a bug, and it's just too freaky having a bug in his room (when his eyes are closed and can't see what Tater might be up to - turns out, he was kind of justified in this fear...) I brought Tater into the living room and set him on the window sill where he would spend the night, blissfully dreaming of his new digs to be created the following morning. Ben discussed Tater at great length during story time. His last words before falling asleep:
"Tater's the best worm I ever saw."

Sunday was indeed a sunny day - all worms tucked safely below ground once again. I had the perfect worm home/terrarium jar out in the potting shed and got busy filling the jar first with fresh compost, then rotting leaves, then chicken manure, then top soil: a worm paradise - a veritable worm smorgasboard! We brought Tater, in his temporary home, out to the patio and started pulling all the damp, shredded paper towelling out.

No Tater.

Ben handled this surprisingly well. Thank goodness he's 5, because here's how it played out: we tromped down to the compost heap which is practically writhing with worm-life and, lo and behold - we "found" Tater! "How did you make it all the way down here?" I asked, amazed at our own worm's inner GPS. Ben was equally amazed, for a while anyway. Later that night he told me that he thought that maybe that wasn't really Tater we found, but maybe another Tater.
"Tater II?" I offered
"No, not Tater II, but maybe Tater's brother. Who is also named Tater. All of his family is Taters."
Just one big happy Tater family!

So, that is the story of our new pet, Tater. I already feel myself becoming attached to the little bugger, and I'm sure that after the novelty wears off, I will be the one feeding and caring for him - for what could be up to 10+ years depending on what species of worm Tater is. I just wonder where the heck Tater the first went?! Somewhere in my living room there is a VERY stressed out worm.

Getcher worm facts here, and here.


Mary G said...

Oh welcome to worm world! My daughter loved worms, wood lice, caterpillars (one escaped and pupated under the dishwasher). She has a daughter who also loves worms. Grama has a great garden in which to find worms.
Yep, you will find dessicated Tater. Sometime.
Encourage him! But invest in some good mesh screen for the container tops.

theflyingmum said...

Thanks, Mary G! Ben has long had a fondness for slugs (blech!), but this is his first foray with worms. I have some cheese cloth secured with a rubber band over the jar now, but I think your suggestion of mesh sounds better.

nowheymama said...

I doubt I could get Katherine excited about a worm, but it's worth a try. Maybe she'd stop asking about a dog so frequently!

Anytime you and Ben are ready for an upgrade, come to our yard for squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, voles, birds (from our neighbor's feeder), and the occasional wild cat. Last year I even saw a hawk on the swingset, watching the birds. And we live *in* town....

NotSoSage said...

This was an AWESOME post. AWESOME. I find myself getting attached to Tater, myself.

It made me laugh when you said that kids are encouraged to play out in the rain. I love that. My parents (who are just a bit north...or maybe even just west of you, I'm not sure exactly where you are) got Mme L an amazing rainsuit for Christmas and she is LOVING it. It reminds me of my childhood.

Keep us updated!

jen said...

this is a terrific story, and you turned it into a lovely lesson on so many levels. great post.

theflyingmum said...

Oh, thank you all! We are lucky that Ben has (so far) only found a worm to adopt. We have no shortage of wildlife - racoons, deer (they eat the young shoots on the apple trees, and apples in the fall), we even have bald eagles nesting nearby. Yes, we are indeed lucky to have Tater. Truly an educational experience.
Sarah, I'm going to have to decline your generous "offer."
Sage, we're about 80 miles south and west of Seattle. I've been considering some rain pants from Land's End, I think? For Ben, since he is prety sweet...
Jen, feel free to ask me anything about worms. Anything.

Mad Hatter said...

I LOVED this story. I loved this line: "And really, how hard can a worm be?"

I have a soft spot for worms. I think Tater would make a fine pet. BTW, do you have Doreen Cronin's picture book "Diary of a Worm." I think both you and Ben would love it.

Sara said...

that's the cutest thing I ever read. Awww....

theflyingmum said...

Mad, I will be checking to see if the library has that book - but maybe I should just buy it. If it would keep Ben interested in Tater, I'm in!

Alpha DogMa said...

Okay - I can not cope with this post. We've got tonnes of snow on our front lawn and another 5 cm fell this morning. I'm getting so depressed.

Anonymous said...

I guess now would not be the best time to read to him How to Eat Fried Worms.