Worms: great for fishing, environs
Worms are odd. They seemingly have no head, while living mostly in the dark and underground.
Fifty years ago, we were able to collect a summer’s worth of nightcrawlers for fishing in just a single evening. We once lived at 228 W. Miner St. in West Chester. We collected a summer’s bait from beneath that massive cherry tree near Portico Row.
We’d try to hunt after a light rain when the ground was slick, a bit sloppy and always after dark. We carried coffee cans and flashlights.
While squatting and creeping along, we’d hit the light and look for a silky glow of a worm extended and outside a hole.
With an extended index finger, we’d press down gently on a portion of the worm farthest from the hole. Some of those babies were more than six inches long.
The worm would clench and stretch, while straining to return to the earth, but with pressure, eventually would become winded and succumb to the coffee can.
We housed hundreds of worms in a wooden chest in the basement. We filled the chest with soil made for worms and packed with nutrients for worms.
And then, all summer long, we caught hundreds of fish with our bounty.
In Boy Scouts, my first summer at Camp Horseshoe, our scout troop performed an initiation. Some might call it mild hazing of the younger scouts by their elders. I’d just say it was gross.
We each bit into a large nightcrawler, cutting it in half. I still remember, the taste was just like the smell of worm and very earthy. Yuck!
So it was still with the memory of that taste in my mouth that I visited with One R. Pagán, a scientist, author of “Strange Survivors,” and professor at West Chester University. Those studied by Pagán are not huge nightcrawlers, but worms about the size of a clipped fingernail.
Pagán’s office is filled with shelves of worms. He said he hates to euthanize rats and mice, but he feels differently about worms.
He is the only “worm guy” at WCU.
Pagán doses the worms with nicotine, alcohol and drugs, exposes them to light and dark, to view how worms react.
In “Strange Survivors” Pagán writes about survival mechanisms of several different creatures.
“Biological life fills us with wonder with its unending mysteries, puzzling behaviors, breathtaking beauty, raw violence, and unexpected liaisons,” he writes in the introduction.
Pagán wrote that many traits of other animals offer us tools to improve our chances of survival. He believes our main goal is to pass on our genes.
“I wanted to go beyond claws, fangs or stealth,” he said about methods of survival. “There are one and a half million species, each with its own idiosyncrasies.
“I narrowed it down to general strategies.”
Some rays, eels and catfish can generate many volts of electrical shock.
“They pack a punch,” Pagán said.
Some creatures can cut themselves into pieces and even lose a head, and still survive.
“If we can learn how to do that, can you imagine that Alzheimer’s, stroke and brain damage from accidents might be reversed,” said the professor.
Some can discharge venomous toxins and release secretions. A conch hunts fish and slow snails while using a little snout, wedge or harpoon that paralyzes. Jellyfish use a trigger and are able penetrate the skin of prey.
Others use speed and stealth to obtain dinner. A shock wave can be created that is strong enough to break shells.
Humans are not the biggest, baddest or fastest. We have learned how to cooperate when it suits us.
Pagán told me he always wanted to be a scientist and now he also writes for students and non-scientists. His writing is clear and concise.
“I like explaining things that anyone can understand regardless of their formal education,” Pagán said. “Everyone can understand science if it is properly explained.”
No, I didn’t sample those worms on that visit to Pagán. I’ll do anything twice, except bite a worm in half.
Learning about science is a joy when taught the right way. For more information go to http://www.baldscientist.wordpress.com.
A West Chester University scientist and professor studies itsy-bitsy worms
West Chester scientist and professor One R. Pagán.