Gummy Worm Drought Continues

This month marks the three year anniversary of my last wild gummy worm sighting.

I started hunting for wild worms in 2013. March 9, 2013 to be specific. I had just downloaded Twitter on my phone. It prompted me with “What is happening?” I looked down and tweeted “Found a gummy worm”.

That tweet changed my life, and I\’ve been worm-watching ever since. I found my next one on Portola Avenue in San Francisco on October 24, 2015. Then, in 2018, I had a hot streak, spotting one at 24th and Valencia in February, another on Montgomery Street in June, and another at 8th and Folsom in August.

I didn’t know then that the 8th and Folsom worm would be my last. I haven’t seen a wild gummy worm since. How could it be that I averaged one worm a year for five years and have been in a nearly three-year drought? Is it a coincidence that this drought precedes, then coincides with the pandemic? Let’s examine the possibilities.

  • I could be less observant and more distracted. It’s true that I’m now a parent of two kids, have a new business, and also have turned 40. My eyesight also seems to be worsening.

  • It could be a geographic issue. I now live in Asheville, NC. It could be that worms don’t survive as long on the street here, or that they are less prevalent in the region.

  • It could be that the behavior of the worms has changed. They might be sheltering in place during COVID, or may have even anticipated the pandemic.

While the last possibility (that wild gummy worms anticipate pandemics) may seem the least likely, it is also the most scientifically intriguing, and most societally relevant. Just imagine the implications if wild gummy worms can help us anticipate future pandemics.

This may feel far fetched but still feels worth studying. Given the cost of the pandemic itself, it seems like we should not rule out any possibilities. If we invest just 1/1000th of the cost of just the most recent stimulus package alone, that would give us $1.9 billion for the worm study. With the right team, we could do it for even less.

I admit there is also a fourth possibility that is a much sadder one. It’s possible that the wild gummy worm population was particularly vulnerable to COVID and has been decimated. I hope this is not the answer, but if it is, wouldn’t you like to know? I know I would. It would save me the sizable percentage of my brain that is constantly dedicated to keeping an eye out for them. More broadly, it would allow us to better understand the total cost of this historic time.

This is why I’m sharing my story and asking for help. What are you seeing? What changes have you noticed? Which of these possibilities do you think is true? As the three year mark passes I feel confused, but not without hope. It would be great to get some feedback and data collection from other wild worm watchers, and in the meantime, maybe tomorrow will be a wormy day!