Night Crawler! (Please switch to the updated version of this article: Night Crawlers!)
By Doug Collicutt
It was a dark and stormy night, the kind of night that signals the beginning of the end of autumn. The wind howled from the west to start, but slowly switched around to blast out of the north. Rain pelted down in a couple of small thunderstorms, then continued all night as a steady stream. By morning, I could see that everything outdoors was soaked, including all the bags of leaves in the back yard that I'd forgotten to close and tie up.
When we headed out the door for the short walk to school, it was cold, windy and still drizzling. I'm back into that routine as my youngest started nursery school this year. Oh well, another couple of years and I'll just boot them both out the door and go back to my coffee. But for now, it's trudge back and forth to school in rain, snow, sleet and hail. On the way out I grabbed a small bag and stuffed it into my raincoat pocket. Rainy days mean worms crawling on the sidewalk and I had fish, snakes, crayfish and a host of other critters to feed over the coming winter, so like many wild critters I was doing my best to stock pile food for all.
Worms are great as food for other critters. They're easy to get, easy to keep alive and "wriggly" (that's important for some things that prefer active prey), they're 70% protein and they're free! To keep them for a short while, you can just throw them in a covered pail or jar with a little damp soil and some dead leaves. For longer storage, treat them the same, but put them in the fridge. I've kept worms for months that way. Just be sure you label the container in big, bold letters: WORMS! I learned the hard way that some people don't appreciate "surprises" in the fridge.
"Whoa! Look at all the worms on the road!" The trip back home from the school was going to take a while. And so it did. In fifteen minutes I had a sandwich bag full, enough to feed my private zoo for quite a while. The worms I had just collected were common garden worms (Genus: Aporrectodea) and though I was satisfied with the take on this hunt, something on that walk had triggered a memory of where I could get some real big game, NIGHT-CRAWLERS!
I had remembered that, as a young man (many moons ago), I used to regularly find humungous night crawlers (a different species of worm: Lumbricus terrestris) along a stretch of road that paralleled Winnipeg's Assiniboine River, in conditions just like today. The fisher in me got excited about the possibility of free bait! So after tucking my initial catch into the fridge, I decided to skip getting down to work and go worm-hunting for real! Yeah I know, you can't really call it "hunting" as there is little sport or skill to the process. I guess it's more like worm gathering or worm picking. It does take a little know-how, but mainly it requires a resolve to endure yucky weather and the curious stares of passers by.
So I jumped in the car and five minutes later was at my destination. (And no, I'm not going to tell you exactly where my favourite worm spot is! Go find your own!) In anticipation of a good haul I had a small bucket with me, and fortunately, my rain coat as it was drizzling again. I surveyed the street. "Hmm, no worms on the road here. Odd, there were lots on my street." Then I noticed something different. Along this heavily treed street there were fallen leaves piled up all along the curbs. On a whim I kicked my foot along the curb, flipping open a small soggy leaf pile. "Yow! The mother lode!" There were four of the biggest, fattest night crawlers I'd ever seen. The biggest one stretched out to 25 cm as I picked it up, and they were all at least 1 cm in diameter (when they weren't stretched out to 25 cm). "Big deal", you say? Do you know what these guys are worth? About 25 cents each! I'd just picked up a buck's worth of worms and was staring at a 100 metre stretch of road that looked exactly like the spot where I'd happened to scrape my boot! "What's that you say?", now you're worried about me decimating the local worm population? Do you think that any of these worms that had crawled out onto the road had a chance in heck of getting back into the soil? Ever heard of curbs? Worms are not into rock-climbing, so any that have the misfortune to fall over the curb are doomed! So I make the best of it. Waste not, want not, my granny always said!
Twenty minutes later my hands were numb from poking around in wet leaves at near freezing temperatures. The euphoria had worn off and the worms had proven to be less abundant than my initial discovery had suggested. But still, I had quite a catch! No less than 30 large night crawlers (worth $7.50, I figured!) along with several dozen regular worms that would go a long way towards feeding a number of critters 'til next spring.
So, effused with the triumph of harvesting nature's bounty I trudged back to my car, started it up and waited for the heater to kick in and stop me from shivering enough to drive home safely -- the great hunter-gatherer returning home with food for the tribe.
And now, carry on for a little more reverent review of Night Crawler biology.