Giant Gippsland Earthworm

Introduction

In the 1870s, surveyors around Warragul found an animal that they thought may have been a snake. They sent it to the then Director of the National Museum of Victoria, Professor Frederick McCoy, who described it as a new species of earthworm and named it Megascolides australis. Its common name is the Giant Gippsland Earthworm.


Giant Gippsland Earthworm
Photographer: Alan Yen / Source: Museum Victoria

Although the body lengths of adult specimens average around under one metre, the body can expand and contract, and lengths of over two metres have been recorded. However, body length is not an accurate measure of size, and fresh body weight is more reliable; adults average around 200 g.

Where does it live?

Even though it is a large species, it is not often seen because it lives deep in the soil and never comes to the surface unless flushed out by heavy rain. It is also very restricted in its distribution. It is only found in the Bass River Valley of South Gippsland, in an area of about 100,000 hectares bounded by the towns of Loch, Korumburra and Warragul. However, within that area, it is very patchy in its distribution and is found in a particular type of blue-grey clay within a short distance of water courses, soaks and springs.

The worm burrows can occur from just below the soil surface to a depth of 1-1.5 m with the worms occurring at a median depth of about half a metre. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm, like any other species of native Australian earthworms, leaves its casts underground in its burrows, and the conical shaped entrances to land crayfish burrows are often mistakenly identified as earthworm casts.

Why is it on the Endangered Species List?

Before European settlement, South Gippsland was predominantly covered by tall, wet eucalypt forest. This vegetation type was extensively cleared for farming leaving small, isolated patches of vegetation. Despite some revegetation undertaken throughout Gippsland; the worms current distribution range remains primarily cleared farmland. The species has survived this massive change because it can go deep into the soil. However, it is considered a threatened species because its range has declined since European settlement. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is listed as a threatened and protected species under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, and is also listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Endangered Species Act.


Beverley Van Praagh holding a Giant Gippsland Earthworm during a Museum Victoria fieldtrip c. 1980.
Photographer: Rodney Start / Source: Museum Victoria

Other factors that make the Giant Gippsland Earthworm prone to threat are its slow developmental rate and low reproductive rate. The worms produce a large egg capsule, about 4-7 cm in length, containing a single young which can take over a year to incubate. Baby worms are already 20 cm long when they hatch, but may take several years to reach adulthood. Giant Gippsland Earthworms live in a complex system of burrows and there are still many aspects of its biology and ecology that we know little about.


A Giant Gippsland Earthworm egg
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Source: Museum Victoria

Further Reading

Taylor, S., Crosthwaite, J. & Backhouse, G. 1997. Giant Gippsland Earthworm Megascolides australis. Natural Resources and Environment Flora & Fauna Guarantee Action Statement No. 77. 7 pp.

Van Praagh, B. 1992. The biology and conservation of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm Megascolides australis McCoy, 1878. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 24 (12):1363-1367.

Comments (88)

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Maureen Trotter 19 April, 2009 14:57
What about the giant earthworms in the Dandenongs? Are they the same or another species?
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Discovery Centre 21 April, 2009 09:27
Hi Maureen, There are a number of species of large earthworm in Australia. We have had reports of large earthworms in the Dandenongs, but as far as we know this is not the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis.
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god 10 October, 2012 20:27
how does the gippsland earth worm reproduce?
Discovery Centre 13 October, 2012 12:57
Hi, there is a lot we don't know about the Giant Gippsland Earthworn. This is because the species very rarely ventures above ground and studying any subterranean species is difficult. The action statement for this species can be found on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and provides a small amount of information concerning reproduction.
Amy 10 August, 2009 14:14
This worm is descusting!
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prasad 25 September, 2009 21:51
Are you sure its a earthworm or reptail(Boa snake)
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Adele 26 September, 2009 10:03
Decusting? or disgusting? and what is so disgusting (or decusting) about a worm?
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Discovery Centre 28 September, 2009 16:43

Hi Prasad - This species has been researched by expert staff, and yes, believe it or not, it is a giant earthworm!

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deeanna 20 October, 2009 01:28
is there any way i could find our about the reproductive system? i already have the reproduction rate, buit i can't find a description of their actual reproductive functions.
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lachie 21 October, 2009 20:05
these worms are wierd i've seen bigger
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indira 27 October, 2009 17:57
I'm doing a project on them and this info has really helped me i just nee to answer 9 more questions out of 11
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Discovery Centre 16 November, 2009 14:07

Thanks for your enquiry about the reproductive habits of these creatures. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is actually an hermaphrodite that requires two individuals to reproduce.

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Paul Tatterson 26 January, 2010 13:44
As a young man I come across some "extra large' worms when digging for worms for trout fishing near Lake Glenmaggie. they were about 1 metre long (or the couple that I found were). Could these have been another species?. I never disclosed the location to anyone and I hope they are still there. Cheers, Paul
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Discovery Centre 3 February, 2010 16:59

Hi Paul - Museum Victoria offers a free specimen identification service however our curators do need to be able to view specimens before offering an identification! You can read about our identification guidelines and submit an enquiry via our Ask the Experts webpage.

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Georgia Roberts 8 February, 2010 14:27
Hello. We have had a lot of rain recently (Robertson, NSW) and yesterday I found two huge worms in one of our paddocks. I have taken images. One was dead, and only 25-30cm in length, but the other was still alive and around 45-55cm. Is it known what sort of worms these might have been? I can send images. Best wishes, Georgia Roberts
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Discovery Centre 8 February, 2010 16:19

Hi Georgia. Museum Victoria offers a free identification service. Before submitting your enquiry online via Ask the Experts please read our identification guidelines. Also, please do send us your images with the enquiry!

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Joanne Ainley 16 March, 2010 18:03
Do you know the home range of the GGE? Do they stay in a couple of metre square area or do they move a few metres in their daily movement patterns. Im aware that they dont disperse and are pretty sedentary, but wondered if anyone knew their home range - is it the burrow size, which they stay in most of the time, and what is the average size of a burrow for one worm? Thanks! :)
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Discovery Centre 18 March, 2010 10:06

Hi Joanne, you may find the following website useful for your research: http://museumvictoria.com.au/pages/7632/science-reports-2-5.pdf

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kiki 5 May, 2010 10:39
What do they eat
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Discovery Centre 5 May, 2010 15:10

Kiki, earthworms eat a wide variety of organic products.

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Andrew 25 May, 2010 09:15
I arrived on this site from Wikipedia and was fascinated to read about these amazing creatures. Certainly they are not disgusting. On the contrary they can be considered one of Australia's unique and symbolic animal species along with the koala, kangaroo, wallaby etc. I hope the efforts to get them off the endangered list and onto a more secure footing (if that expression is appropriate for worms!) will be successful.
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Steve Broady 20 August, 2010 22:56
How ancient would this worm speices be? Would it have existed pre-Tertiary for instance?
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Discovery Centre 24 September, 2010 13:19

Hi Steve, we don't know that anyone has studied when Megascolides australis evolved. Most of the work on this threatened species has looked at distribution and lifecycle. One of our staff in the Palaeontology Department has said that he believes the family Megascolecidae, (one group of earthworms, to which the Giant Gippsland Earthworm belongs) is quite old, as it has a “Gondwanan” distribution, indicating the family possibly evolved at the latest some time in the Mesozoic (possibly older than 200 million years) when the continents were still connected. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm itself may be a much younger species than this but we just don't know. It is likely to be highly adapted to its habitat, so knowing how long the habitat has existed may give an idea of the species’ age. Due to the lack of skeleton and the environment they live in, they almost never fossilise. I doubt that any work on genetics has been done to get an estimate of its origin.

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Chris Wilson 28 September, 2010 14:47
Good to see an informative service where we (the public) can get feedback. Thank you.
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Victoria 27 October, 2010 10:05
Hi, I was wondering if there were any of the GGE relatives living in the U.S. Are there? Thanks
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Discovery Centre 29 October, 2010 08:48

Hi Victoria, it is unlikely that species that are closely related to the Giant Gippsland Earthworm are living in North America. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis belongs to the family Megascolecidae, a mainly Southern Hemisphere group, which occurs in Australia, South and Central America, Africa and south-east Asia. There may well be unrelated large species of worm in North America.  

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Tony 3 December, 2010 12:50
Do you know what the local Aboriginal term for the GGE is?
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isla bokainy 13 December, 2010 19:27
Earth worms are pretty amazing Id love to see one
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wosheika 21 January, 2011 03:45
it's soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo big it looks like a rope
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adrian delucio marie ceballos de la cruz 21 January, 2011 03:49
how big can they grow
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Discovery Centre 21 January, 2011 11:59
Hi Adrian and Marie, as noted in the information sheet the body lengths of adult specimens average around under one metre, but the body can expand and contract, and lengths of over two metres have been recorded.
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laranda ortiz 22 January, 2011 03:40
can these worms be found in other places,countries,etc besides australia?
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laliana 22 January, 2011 03:48
I was just wondering if these are most likely to be found in America and if so are they dangerous?can they be found in rivers,lakes,oceans,beaches,ones backyard?
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Rocio Maria Hernandez 22 January, 2011 09:46
are they the same as any regular earthworm?
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Haila Marie De jesus 22 January, 2011 11:58
How long do they live? Have they been on earth for centuries
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MyLadys 23 January, 2011 05:37
how long can they live?
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Discovery Centre 24 January, 2011 12:37

Hi Laranda, Laliana, Rocio, Haila and MyLadys,

Giant Gippsland Earthworms are only found in Australia, as mentioned in the main text. They are not dangerous; in fact they are in danger of becoming extinct due to the activities of humans. Except for their extreme size, GGEs are similar to any other earthworm. They are estimated to live for twenty years, but this has not been confirmed. As for how long they have been on earth, this has been answered above (see 24 Sept 2010).

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faralis 25 January, 2011 03:44
do they reproduce on there own?
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janira 25 January, 2011 03:48
there very long
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jarianna martinez 26 January, 2011 03:34
how many eggs at once can only one of the earthwoms lay?
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Discovery Centre 26 January, 2011 11:33
Hi Feralis - Thanks for your enquiry about the reproductive habits of these creatures. As said earlier, the Giant Gippsland Earthworm is actually an hermaphrodite that requires two individuals to reproduce. You might find this information sheet from the DSE interesting.
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Discovery Centre 27 January, 2011 15:48
Hi Jarianna - we don't really know for sure, as it is so difficult to observe these animals!
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adamaris delgado 1 February, 2011 03:35
how can you tell when they are male or female?
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Baino 22 February, 2011 09:33
Is it possible to see these live anywhere. I have an American visitor coming in April who would love to be able to see a live worm
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Alix 10 April, 2011 12:16
Would the insides be the same as a normal segmented worm, just on a larger scale?
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Discovery Centre 16 April, 2011 14:39
Hi Alix! Our Collection Manager from this area has given us this information for you: The Giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascoloides australis) and the common earthworm both belong to the phylum Annelida & the class Oligochaeta.  Being members of the same class means that they have many characteristics in common.  The attached link covers some of the characteristics oligochaetes have in common.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligochaeta (this is an external link, the contents of which we have no responsibility over).

However, since the Giant Gippsland earthworm & the common garden worm (of which there are many species) belong to different families, there will also be some physiological differences between them.  So essentially, the Giant Gippsland Earthworm is a scaled up segmented worm but with their own unique set of characters which separates them for common earthworms.

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david 13 June, 2011 10:55
man that would taste really bad if you had to eat it yuck!!!! but it is verry big hey
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heyybabe 13 June, 2011 11:27
this is soooo fake ayy ahah <3
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Charlie 15 June, 2011 12:05
R they real??
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Liam 26 June, 2011 17:33
hi i found this worm not to long ago, and it was quiet big.. found it in a rotting tree in the banks of the diamond creek creek, just after the creek had been flooded, as i am a keen fishermen i put a photo of it up onto a fishing website and a person has told me it is a gippsland one, he said i should report this to you guys. i have a photo but not to sure if i could send it through this?
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Chris 15 August, 2011 09:10
Hi, I saw a kookaburra pulling a large worm from a burrow in wet sclerophyll forest in the ranges of south gippy. The worm was about 600mm long and as thick as a mans index finger. Two kookas had a tug a war once it was extracted then shared the spoils. Any ideas what species?
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Discovery Centre 17 August, 2011 10:12
Hi Chris, the Museum used to have an expert on Giant Gippsland Earthworms but unfortunately she is no longer here and we don't currently have a staff member with expertise in worms. To determine species an expert would most likely need either good quality images or a specimen.
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Sam 24 September, 2011 06:21
Am I allowed to use the photos on this page for a school project on Megascolides australis?
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Discovery Centre 24 September, 2011 10:37
Hi Sam, you are very welcome to use our images for private or research purposes such as an assignment. Information about using our images in other ways can be found via our image use guidelines.
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Dr Aine Seavers 14 October, 2011 16:19

Early last year a poster from Robertson(cf below) was to send in some pictures of a large worm for identification. I am a Vet whose practice is near Robertson and we have problems with dogs digging holes to pull up these large worms. Many times the owners think the dogs are digging from boredom or stress but often they are hearing these noisy worms under the ground and digging them up- I would love to know the name of this worm in the Robertson area if possible. many thanks

Georgia Roberts 08 Feb 2010 14:27 Hello. We have had a lot of rain recently (Robertson, NSW) and yesterday I found two huge worms in one of our paddocks. I have taken images. One was dead, and only 25-30cm in length, but the other was still alive and around 45-55cm. Is it known what sort of worms these might have been? I can send images. Best wishes, Georgia Roberts

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Discovery Centre 15 October, 2011 12:24
Hi Aine, thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately Museum Victoria no longer has a worm expert on staff. As you are from NSW you want to contact the Australian Museum in Sydney who may be able to assist you. Good Luck, the gurgling noise that some of the large worms make in their burrows can be quite impressive.
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Megan James 15 November, 2011 16:04
Hi, Do you know if there is anywhere visitors can view these worms? I believe there was a GGEW museum in Bass, but it may well be closed these days. I will be touring Victoria in the new year and would love to observe them. many thanks, Megan James Sydney
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Discovery Centre 18 November, 2011 15:40

Hi Megan - the Museum you describe is now called Wildlife Wonderland and can be contacted at (03) 5678-2222. It did contain a giant earthworm (through which visitors could crawl), as well as other giant earthworm exhibits, but current information concentrates on other exhibits.  A phone call before your visit would be our suggestion, to obtain up to date information on the display.

Hope this helps

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Megan James 30 November, 2011 14:22
Many thanks for your help. I'll give Wildlife Wonderland a call closer to my planned visit. All the best, Megan
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Cheryl Todea 24 March, 2012 05:34
Can I use one of these photos for an educational newspaper article on Earthworms of the World? Thanks!
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Discovery Centre 24 March, 2012 10:19
Hi Cheryl, all image requests need to be made through our Image Requests page after reading the guidelines. Please click on the Ask the Experts link at left to go to the page.
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Liana 29 March, 2012 10:12
Can you give me some ideas on the evolutionary background ofthis animal? thankyou
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Discovery Centre 31 March, 2012 11:37

Hi Liana,

Please refer to the answer we gave Steve on the 24th September 2010. Even though the answer is two years old, it is still relevant as we still don’t have anyone that has studied how and when the Megascolides australis evolved.

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Peter Brown 19 April, 2012 03:33
HI I was just wondering how these worms take in their food? And what exactly do they eat? Thanks.
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Discovery Centre 27 April, 2012 14:38
Hi Peter, Giant Gippsland Earthworms basically eat their way through the soil and probably ingest things incidentally through this process. The worms ingest organic matter, protozoa, bacteria and fungi etc. as the soil moves through their body. They don't have teeth but they do have a gizzard which would grind the food. The important material is absorbed through the blood stream as it passes through the intestine and the rest comes out as 'cast' material or waste. The Giant Gippsland Earthworms leave this cast within their burrows, unlike many other introduced worms that cast above ground.
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bobby 2 May, 2012 09:55
this is the best site ever
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jesse 15 May, 2012 17:19
what are the earthworms predators
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Discovery Centre 16 May, 2012 15:02
Hi Jesse, we don't think this species ventures above ground unless it is dug up or possibly flooded out, so in that context it would have very few predators. 
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Nicole Box 18 July, 2012 14:06
Please can you tell me how many baby worms hatch out of each egg, is it just one worm per each egg capsule?
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Discovery Centre 18 July, 2012 14:10
Hi Nicole, you are correct in that there is only one juvenile Giant Gippsland Earthworm in each egg.
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William 3 September, 2012 09:38
Is there a estimate of how many of these worms are in Australia?
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Discovery Centre 5 September, 2012 10:29

Hi William, according to the National Recovery Plan for the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis. There are no data on which to base population estimates or trends. This is mainly the result of the difficulties inherent in studying a subterranean species. This report does provide some interesting information on what we do know of the species and the threats it is facing.

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jess 13 October, 2012 14:49
gge r awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Everest 14 November, 2012 01:27
What color are they?
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Discovery Centre 17 November, 2012 15:01
Hi Everest, if you scroll up there are colour images of the worm on the information sheet. 
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Everest 28 November, 2012 01:10
Oh my gosh! Thankyou for answering I was so surprised because I usally never get answered on anything
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Everest 17 December, 2012 02:53
Are there any specific organic materials that they favor as part of their diet?
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Discovery Centre 22 December, 2012 12:52
Hi Everest, we don't know the answer to this question. You may want to contact the CSIRO who have done research into earthworms and soil etc.
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*Anonymous 27 December, 2012 05:10
So, I'm doing a biology project for a class, and the Australian Giant Gippsland Earthworm is one of the species I've chosen to study. I've looked upon numerous websites and still am not sure on how old they are when they reproduce, or how many offspring they have. Is there anyway you could help me out?
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Discovery Centre 27 December, 2012 12:20
Hi, it is believed the Giant Gippsland Earthworm takes about 4.5 years to reach maturity and the worm lays a single egg capsule that takes over 12 months to hatch. 

 

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Shirelle 27 January, 2013 14:51
Is the giant earthworm museum still open to the public?
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roger burgess 27 January, 2013 19:00
There was an article on this species of worm in the old ANH (Sydney)magazine (now defunct). I wrote a letter informing them of the giant earthworm in SE Quensland. I have personally seen this worm (Megalogaster)in the Gold Coast hinterland when helping a friend dig an irrigation channel. It is at least as big as your Victorian species! I suppose they both could be relics of the ancient Gondwannan megafauna. Did anyone see the ABC Landline item today on big worms of the world and their hunters?
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sweet brown 20 April, 2013 08:35
what do they eat??
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Gordon 29 September, 2013 18:02
I lived in Gippsland for many years. I recall seeing a photograph ( 1890/1900s vintage) where a number of people, standing shoulder to shoulder carried a Gippsland worm. I further recollect that the length was ten feet and half an inch -( 3060 millimetres) I imagined them straining for that 1/2" - you would be tempted wouldn't you?:) I also recall that the text stated that specimen was the " original" which was sent to I think Museum Victoria, and was the one which was examined and led to the species being scientifically recognised. Isn't there a term for such a specimen?
Discovery Centre 7 October, 2013 12:35
Hi Gordon, some of the older shots of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm are likely to have contained a number of worms. People held the two ends of the worms in their hands so it looked like one enormous worm. You are correct that there are names for the specimens used to describe species; holotype is the term given to the specimen that a scientific description is based on. The Australian Museum provides a good description of all the different types of types. There is no holotype for the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, the Australian Museum in Sydney hold the syntypes for this species.  
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Adam 21 April, 2014 13:55
Is there somewhere i can go to see one
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Georgia 14 August, 2014 10:59
I was told Earthworms are both female and male. Is this true?
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Discovery Centre 22 August, 2014 13:44
Hi Georgia, earthworms are hermaphrodites, see the Australian Museum website for a good explanation.