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The Early Bird Gets the Wet Worm

May 26, 2011 | by Bruce Auchly

Rain. We need it. We curse it. We can’t do anything about it.

All the water falling from the sky recently has consequences for man and beast alike.

From a recreation point of view, too much water makes it difficult to impossible to boat or float or fish. That leads to a lot of grumbling about something we have no control over.

Wildlife, however, have a more varied point of view. Animals forced from their homes, or habitat, are inconvenienced. But robins end up with a banquet of worms spread before them on nearly every street, sidewalk and lawn. And ducks are doing just swimmingly, thank you.

Many towns are built near waterways large and small: Conrad near Pondera Creek; Great Falls close to the junction of the Smith, Missouri and Sun rivers; Lewistown astride Big Spring Creek.

All those streams and rivers are wildlife corridors. Besides water, they provide shelter, food and space for mammals and birds alike. But when the heavens open and the creeks rise some of those species head to higher ground sometimes in urban areas.

Recently a young black bear was found running around the outside of the Great Falls airport terminal. It was eventually treed, removed and relocated. Fortunately the incident happened in the middle of the night when few people were about.

The bear most likely was traveling a flooded riverine wildlife corridor and was pushed to higher ground. The airport sits atop Gore Hill.

Any wildlife species that uses habitat along a river corridor can be expected to be found anywhere these days. From skunks to deer, reports are flowing in about animals in unusual places.

That can lead to unintended human-wildlife interactions. Cars versus deer or dogs against skunks often don’t have a good ending for the participants.

 On the positive side, this rain has to be a bonanza to birds like robins. That’s because of the many earthworms that are littering sidewalks and streets.

Rain brings worms to the surface, but not because the ground is so saturated they have to or they would drown.

Worms breathe, or gather oxygen, through their skin. And they are very susceptible to drying out. When that happens they can’t breathe and they die. That’s why normally they only come out at night.

Hence the name, night crawlers. Duh.

Scientists who study this stuff say worms come out and stay out of the ground after rainstorms for a lot of reasons. They find other worms for reproduction. They move to a new location to burrow. They search for food, like dead leaves. And they can without fear of drying out.

Earthworms can actually survive underwater for long periods. Most anglers who have spent an afternoon trying to drown a worm can testify to that.

Robins are neither scientists nor spend afternoons fishing. But it must be pleasing to start chirping at daybreak after a long evening rainstorm and find worm steaks everywhere.

So lots of rain does serve a delightful purpose. If only we were all robins and ate worms.