Here’s the deal: there’s a three-foot-long pink earthworm living in the Palouse region of Idaho and Washington and nowhere else on the planet. It can burrow 15 feet underground and it was re-discovered last year after scientists believed it had gone extinct. Also, it smells like a lily.
At the risk of sounding unserious: awesome!
Anyway, a small group of local conservation groups is petitioning to get the worm listed as a federal endangered species. Listing would probably create some incentive for habitat protection in an area where the native ecosystem, a rich 2-million-acre grassland, is nearly vanished.
So the endangered species petition is about more than just the earthworm; it’s also about the wider ecosytem. That sort of tactic — finding what biologists sometimes call “charismatic megafauna” to use as a poster child for broader conservation — has worked with grizzly bears, wolves, and sea otters.
But can it work for an earthworm, even a giant one? And anyway, why should we care more about friendly-looking creatures than the oddities of nature?