Saturday, September 19, 2020

Jumping into new worm woes...

Photo by Josef Gorres, University of Vermont
"Yeah, the jumping worms are like snakes, it is said. Fool around with them and they rise up like India cobras being tooted out of a cask by a Hindi seer."
 Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune, September 19, 2020


I have never cared for worms. Have you? Even harmless angle or earthworms seem kind of yucky to me. You used to put them on fish hooks, which was unpleasant to me even at a young age. Maybe that is why I have never cared for fishing. (Don’t get me started on impaling minnows.)


Why worms now? We here in the Northland are being warned of the arrival from Asia — where else? — of the jumping worm.  I’m not making that up. This paper published a lengthy report on the invasion of the Asian jumping worm a week or so ago. Google it.


Whew, as if we haven’t got enough to worry about, now it’s the jumping worm? And, of course, every few years or so we get invaded by army worms  — they’re actually caterpillars — that strip all the deciduous trees of their leaves and crawl around outdoor surfaces ruining picnics and other outdoor activities like just relaxing on the deck.  


But back to the angleworm for a moment. Beyond threading them on fish hooks back in the day, we actually dissected them in a college natural science course. There’s a saddle on their back, or in their middle, called the clitellum. That pretty well summarizes everything I learned about natural science in college. Well, there were very unfortunate spotted frogs too, but we won’t go into that. It explains why I didn’t go to medical school.


And if earthworms are yucky, what about night crawlers? They seem juicier. They show up on the driveways and sidewalks of the civilized world — at least it used to be civilized — after it rains, ready for the, what, picking? Not by me.


Some guy named Walt sells them at area gas stations/convenience stores. I notice the sign “Walt’s Crawlers” as I drive by. How convenient is that? Gas, milk, potato chips and night crawling worms all in one handy stop.


But this threat by the jumping worm has got me spooked. Suddenly it shows up right in the middle of a global pandemic, thank you very much, and it is said to actually fight back if you pick one up. Not a pleasant thought, not that any worm is actually a pleasant thought or not that I would ever pick one up if I didn’t have to. Let Walt do it.


Yeah, the jumping worms are like snakes, it is said. Fool around with them and they rise up like India cobras being tooted out of a cask by a Hindi seer. And what are they good for? Nothing. Turns out worm scientists say the jumping worm crawls around a couple of inches beneath the surface of a lawn, and consumes all that keeps the lawn healthy. Trees too.


So, it’s an election year and what are our leaders going to do about the jumping worm threat? Wouldn’t we like to know.


I imagine the two main sides in this election — need I say Republicans and Democrats? — would have vastly different reactions to the invasion of the jumping worm. Republicans would blame it on Democrats and Democrats would defend them as part of the environment.


But enough. I want to get to a discussion of another worm that somehow enters my consciousness every single day: The earworm.


I am deeply involved with the earworm because I am the kind of individual who has some form of music on my mind every minute of every waking hour of the day. Mostly, in my case, it’s classical music, but other music too, like patriotic in an election year.


So, as I go through any given day (they are all a gift), I might be internally humming a theme from a symphony by Beethoven (the composer not the canine movie star) or “O Canada” or a show tune like “Oooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain” or, possibly, a hymn, “Rock of Ages” (not to be confused with rock ’n’ roll of the ages embodied by the late Little Richard) when suddenly a strange ear worm intervenes.


Enter, lately, a guy named “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.” Do you remember him? The song got stuck in my mind decades ago and now suddenly it’s back in the form of an earworm.


Readers of a certain age might recall it and even remember the melody. Hum along here: “He likes to sing raggedy music to the cattle as he swings back and forward in the saddle,/On his horse — a pretty good horse —to a syncopated gaiter and the roar of his repeater,/How they run when they hear his gun,/ ‘cause the western folks all know,/ He’s a high falutin’, roootin, shootin’ son-of-a-gun from Arizona,/ Ragtime Cowboy, talk about yer cowboy, Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”


That’s my latest and ubiquitous earworm. Can’t seem to shed it. Like on the Fourth of July, I might be out in the garden on a beautiful morning poking my 10-inch flag into a flowerpot and thinking, “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” when suddenly:


“He likes to sing raggedy music to the cattle as he swings back and forward in the saddle…” drowning out the Star Spangled Banner on the Fourth of July in an election year in the middle of a global pandemic, for crying out loud. Arrest this man. Send in the Army worms.


So there you have it. Worms that plague our lives, including this new jumping worm. I’m an old Lutheran, but I’ll never understand how Martin got along on a diet of worms.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

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