It’s not easy to photograph

It’s not easy to photograph a worm. You’ve got to clean it off, which usually means holding it in one hand and dribbling a little water from the hose on it with the other. It needs to be on a plain background—butcher paper works, or a plain metal surface like a cookie sheet—because it tends to disappear, both visually and literally, if you try to photograph it on dirt. Then there’s the problem of getting it to sit still. The combination of the cold water on its skin and the unfamiliar and well-lit terrain of the butcher paper is enough to make it run for cover , but when it moves, I can’t get my camera’s macro lens to focus on it.

Finally, I find that worms need to be posed. Their natural inclination is to stretch out to their full length and start slithering away, which does not make for a very interesting photograph. I try to curl them into some sort of S-shape so they’ll fill the frame of the picture and look more natural, as if there’s anything natural about a perfectly clean, pink worm resting on a piece of butcher paper.

This worm came right out of the ground yesterday as I was pulling out some woody old lavender plants that needed to be replaced. I watched it slither out of the dirt and up onto the sidewalk, slowly, a few segments at a time. The worm just kept getting longer and longer, and must have been a full eight inches long by the time its tail appeared. I wonder if this one might be the African nightcrawler, Eudrilus eugeniae, a worm that is known to reach nearly a foot in length. It does not seem to be fully mature—it does not yet have a clitellum, that lumpy band of flesh about a third of the way down a worm’s body that is used in reproduction—so it’s hard to tell for sure. (An expert—and very patient—worm taxonomist can often identify a species of worm by counting the number of segments from its head to its clitellum.)

Either way, it’s a fine worm, impressive in its length, so after the photography session I dropped it into the nightcrawler holding pen I’ve set up in the backyard. I’m gradually adding particularly good worms to this pen in hopes that they’ll be comfortable there over the next few months and available to me when I need to take a worm to a composting workshop or a booksigning. It’s sort of a green room for celebrity nightcrawlers.