Azores, Azores2015, News, Uncategorized

Four earthworm hunters go up a mountain

Well the morning of a major field expedition is always special – especially as you get to help yourself to buffet breakfast without any guilt as you know you will need the calories. Serious, up at 6 am to try and get a few emails dealt with before big breakfast to put us all on the right footing for the mountain. Luis still looking a bit rough with the flu but claims that the midnight sweats have made him feel better – looking at him this morning I don’t believe it but nothing is going to keep him in his hotel room when we are all in the field !!

This field work has two objectives:

i) identify a island population of Amynthas earthworm sp. that we have been studying on the Sao Miguel so we can understand how the earthworm came to the islands and the relationship between the Island populations.

ii) to sample earthworm species in a vertical transect from as high as we can find them on Pico mountain to sea level to understand the adaptations they need to live at high altitude – the price of high altitude living.

So after the hearty breakfast four large earthworm hunters loaded up into a 1.3 Renault Cleo and started up the mountain – yes before you ask the car never made it out of third gear – the mountain is steep and we are heavy. What a sight welcomed us, no clouds covered the mountain and when we turned round this is the view that greeted us:


The roads are really good and we could drive upto 1300m before it was time to start to hike. So we dressed Luis up in his hat and scarf and started to a to hike…..he make it look so good.

Luis in scarf and hat

We climbed up a path that was mostly made from larva – really heavy on the feet.

Larva path

And at 1400 M we made our first sampling – and yes we found worms. Two species, two early to tell the exact classification but they seemed to be the same as the ones we had found on the cost (site 1 the day before). So now we had to hike up the mountain and see how high we could go – but not before Luis had to leave and go back to the car. Flu = cough, high latitude hike = more coughing. But nothing was stopping Iain who really looks like someone built to be on a mountain.

Iain on Pico

But Iain, Joca and I went on. At 1500M there was a secondary cone that Joca climbed down into – see picture below. Very cool, Iain is a caver and his troglodytic senses were twitching – and there were still worms.

secondary cone in mist

Joca down a whole

Joca in cone

So we start to climb and clamber up towards 1600M – a feet that was made more challenging by the ice that covered the surface of the larva, and boy my lungs had started to hurt, nothing to do with altitude but just too many days flying a desk.

ice path to pico

We arrived at 1600M and what a view – and even better we could find worms.

View from 1600M

Unfortunately, at this point I new that my game was up so I stayed and collected worms while Joca and Iain went further up….and amazingly they found earthworms at 1700M….and they think they could have gone further.

1700M Pan

But this was only a preliminary investigation and going further and even getting inside the cone will have to wait untill the next time. Joca says there is a cave at the top where it is traditional to camp out during the summer – but this will take some serious planning and its time for lunch.

Joca at 1700M