Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, September 10, 2007


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Steve Paulson, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 476-7688,
O. Lynne Nelson, Friends of the Clearwater, (509) 335-0789
David Hall,

Lawsuit to Seek Endangered Species Protection for a Three-Foot Long, Spitting Worm

MOSCOW, Idaho— The Center for Biological Diversity, Palouse Prairie Foundation, Palouse Audubon Society, and Friends of the Clearwater today took the first step in a lawsuit to protect the giant Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) — a three-foot long, spitting worm that is native to parts of Idaho and Washington — as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The worm was once common but has been seen only a handful of times in the past 30 years

The groups filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August 2006 to list the giant Palouse earthworm as an endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to respond to the petition, despite the fact that federal law mandated a 90-day finding by November 2006 and a 12-month finding by August 2007. Today the groups filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to the petition.

“The giant Palouse earthworm and the Palouse prairie habitats it depends on are on the edge of extinction and will be lost forever if we don’t act soon,” said Steve Paulson of Friends of the Clearwater. “The earthworm needs the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”

In 1897, the giant Palouse earthworm was described as “very abundant.” Today, however, sightings of the species are extremely rare. The only recent confirmed worm sighting was made on May 27, 2005 by a University of Idaho researcher. Previously, the giant worm had not been spotted since 1988. Surveys at 46 Palouse sites in 2002 failed to document its presence. But there is hope that with protection under the Endangered Species Act the earthworm can still be found and saved.

“Failure to respond to the petition is all too typical of the Bush administration, which has protected the fewest number of species under the Endangered Species Act of any administration since the law was passed,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “To date, the Bush administration has only protected 58 species, compared to 522 under Clinton and 231 under the first Bush president.”

The giant Palouse earthworm is the largest and longest-lived earthworm remaining on the North American continent, attaining the length of three feet. It is reported to have a peculiar flowery smell (Driloleirus is Latin for “lily-like worm”) and to be cream-colored or pinkish-white. It lives in permanent burrows as deep as 15 feet and has been reported to spit at attackers and move quickly through the soil to escape predators.

“This worm is the stuff that legends and fairytales are made of. What kid wouldn’t want to play with a three-foot-long, lily-smelling, soft pink worm that spits? A pity we’re losing it,” said Paulson.

The giant Palouse earthworm lives only in the increasingly rare grassland habitats of the Palouse region of southeastern Washington and west-central Idaho, which have been decimated by a combination of agricultural and suburban development, invasive species, disease, and pesticide pollution. Today, less than one percent of native Palouse prairie remains, endangering the earthworm and many other species. Scientists consider the Palouse prairie to be one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the United States.

“The native Palouse ecosystem is precious. It represents beauty, heritage, wildlife habitat, drinking water and a clean, simple quality of life; yet this ecosystem is one of the rarest on earth. Listing the giant Palouse earthworm may be the only salvation for the Palouse prairie,” said O. Lynne Nelson, who helped write the petition to protect the earthworm.

More information about the giant Palouse earthworm can be found at

Go back