Nine-year-old Barnaby Domigan was playing in his family’s backyard in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he noticed something bobbing in the water of a nearby riverbed. He grabbed a stick, fished it out and discovered it was a three-foot-long, dead earthworm, reports Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
“I could not believe my eyes,” Domigan tells RNZ, adding that he named the creature “Dead Fred.”
“I thought it was massive, and amazing, and a little bit disgusting,” he says to Liz McDonald from Stuff.
Domigan’s mother, Jo, tells RNZ her son was “pretty delighted” to find it. For her part, she thought that the worm looked unappealing and a bit bloated.
“Thankfully, I was at work when said worm was found because, oh my word, how disgusting!” she tells the publication. “We’ve had some big worms here in the past, but nothing like that guy. He’s outrageous.”
Though the massive worm looks “a bit like the creature from the black lagoon,” it’s actually likely to be a native earthworm species, says John Marris, curator of the entomology research collection at Lincoln University in New Zealand, to Stuff.
“There are some very large native earthworms known—a meter isn’t beyond the borders of reason,” he tells the publication. Still, he says, it’s uncommon to find a giant earthworm in a garden. They usually live in undisturbed areas, like forests.
In all, more than 7,000 earthworm species exist in moist soils across all continents, except for Antarctica. The invertebrates are important decomposers of organic matter and help improve soil health by promoting aeration and recycling nutrients.
But the title of the world's largest earthworm species goes to Australia’s Giant Gippsland earthworm (Megascolides australis), which is about six feet long. The worm is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and it faces threats such as toxins, disturbance to its habitat and shifts in hydrology that might cause flooding or drying of the soil.
As for the worm found in Domigan’s garden, its exact species hasn’t been officially confirmed. He put the massive critter back after taking a photo with it, and when he went back for a second look, it was gone.
“I tried to convince my dad to keep it in a plastic bag, but he wasn't really in on that idea,” the nine-year-old tells RNZ. “I think it's because adults don't really enjoy giant worms in their houses. If I was an adult, I would agree.”