Would You Try to Save Microchaetus Papillatus?

CC BY 2.0. Brian Gratwicke

What's in a name? It turns out quite a lot is at stake for threatened species that only go by scientific monikers.

Take earthworms, for example. It is bad enough that these shy species spend most of their time underground where we cannot appreciate their valuable contributions, or that they are slimy and wriggly which hardly qualifies them to feature on fund-raising posters. But it seems that when they have no common name, they are more likely to get overlooked during environmental impact assessments.


pfly/CC BY-SA 2.0Somehow, countless millenia spent geo-forming our earth and addition to the catalog of scientifically known species does not suffice. If we want 'wormy', or 'brownie', or 'slinky' to make the cut when it comes to conservation, it helps to give them a name. While scientists aren't quite into cutesy nicknames, they are now undertaking to publish common names for earthworms of each of the species in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, where their habitats are increasingly threatened.

Thus the Parachilota minimus will now be known as the "small bristly earthworm." Geogenia distasmosa becomes the "interesting wrinkled earthworm" and Tritogenia debbieae the Debbie’s stumpy earthworm.

Microchaetus Papillatus, by the way, is the "green giant wrinkled earthworm." It is one of a number of earthworms that can be up to 1 meter (3 feet) long. These giant worms burrow deep into the soil, aerating the soil and adding nutrients much further below the earth's surface than other worms.

Many worm species also have relatively limited range, making the risk of extinction of an entire species much greater if care is not taken to ensure the delicate balance of nature favors the worms as well as the wonders of human advancement. Maybe some day the worms will return the favor and help us out with some of the unintended consequences of our advancing wonders.