Gruntin' for worms in Sopchoppy
SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
Everybody grunts for worms at the Worm
James L Pinson
Sopchoppy, Florida, US (population 253) holds an annual Worm Gruntin'
Festival that closely resembles the recent Worm-Charming contest in the English
village of Willaston, Cheshire (pop. about 4000), where Tom Shufflebotham made a
record catch of 511 worms in 30 minutes. (Great words, Sopchoppy and
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The "-bottom" suffix on surnames, common in the
north of England, gives rise to sniggers because the meaning of the name has
long been forgotten, or is not familiar to most Americans. Take the name
SHUFFLEBOTTOM. The "-bottom," suffix, originally spelled botham, refers to
the broad bottom of a valley, and the Shuffle- part of this name is more
correctly "Shipper-" and refers to a spring where sheep were washed.
SHUFFLEBOTHAM or SHUFFLEBOTTOM are variants of SHIPPERBOTTOM.
- Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG.
Worm hunters in both places use similar techniques. While the charmers drive
forks into the ground and vibrate the tynes, the grunters rub wooden stakes with
steel bars. In both cases, worms rise to the surface, either to escape the
vibrations or just to discover what's causing that unseemly racket.
"The worm-catching process sounds much like a rooting pig," Thomas C. Tobin
wrote four years ago in the St. Petersburg Times, describing Sopchoppy's
About 20 young contestants and their adult helpers gathered in a vacant
downtown field with stobs and stakes provided by festival organizers. Some
brought their own tools.
After 30 minutes of work in the shadow of a weathered train depot, the
prize -- $50 cash and a set of worm gruntin' tools -- was collected by
7-year-old Hannah Oxendine of Tallahassee. Her plastic cup of worms, about
one-quarter full, weighed the most.
The festival ended last night with a country music and blue grass concert
on the loading dock of the town hardware store, where dancers rested on
bails of hay.
Tobin noted that Sopchoppy worms, Diplocardia mississippiensis, should
not be confused with "the skinnier northern red worms whose ancestors came over
with the settlers at Jamestown." Each worm, he wrote, has 12 pinhead-size
Have you ever watched birds such as Australian magpies, peewits, and English
blackbirds and thrushes hunting for worms? They listen intently, peck brisk
tattoos on the ground with their strong beaks, then promply capture those
wriggling snacks that have come up from their burrows.
Darwin mentioned that phenomenon more than a century ago.
The last book the famous evolutionist wrote before his death in 1882 was a
316-page study of earthworms. He wrote: "The Peewit...seems to know
instinctively that worms will emerge if the ground is made to tremble; for
Bishop Stanley states...that a young peewit kept in confinement used to stand on
one leg and beat the turf with the other leg until the worms crawled out of
their burrows, when they were instantly devoured.
"Nevertheless, worms do not invariably leave their burrows when the ground is
made to tremble, as I know by having beaten it with a spade, but perhaps it was
beaten too violently."
Memo Chief Wormer Mike Forster, President, International Federation of
Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes: Here's hoping you'll promote a World
Earthworm Charmers v. Grunters Championship in Australia's tropical Northern
Territory capital, that's named... Darwin!
- Sopchoppy is a remote village in the Apalachicola National Forest, the
largest of Florida's national forests. The Worm Gruntin' Festival takes
place in the first week of April each year. A former resident explains how
the name Sopchoppy originated: "It's a bastardization of the local indian
term meaning 'mysterious waters'. The water referred to is the Sopchoppy
River which is a beautiful little, dark-watered, mostly canopied river that
meanders around and through the town."
- Famous British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1892) visited Sydney in
1836, while sailing around the world on H.M.S. Beagle. The ship sailed
around the southern coast of Australia and then returned to England. Darwin
never went anywhere near his namesake city, which is 3000km from Adelaide
and 4000km from Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Darwin, now the capital of
the Northern Territory, was first settled in the 1860s. Originally the
settlement was called Palmerston, and its harbour Port Darwin, in honour of
Charles Darwin. Gradually, more and more residents used that name when
referring to the town, but it was not until 1911 that the name became
official. Palmerston is now a town of 23,400 people 20 kilometres by road to
the east of the Darwin central business district.
- On February 19,1942, in World War II, Japanese planes bombed Darwin
city, killing at least 243 people and wounding between 300 and 400. Twenty
military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were
sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
- Early on Christmas morning 1974 the worst natural disaster ever to hit
an Australian city destroyed most of Darwin. Today it's a vibrant modern
city with a population of 108,200.
- And if you wonder about the meaning of the initials CG after Myra
Vanderpool Gormley's name, it's not Croix de Guerre; it's Certified
Story first posted
Copyright © 2006