Moles, not magic, make worm 'grunting' work

ByABC News
June 12, 2009, 1:36 PM

TATE'S HELL, Florida -- Gary Revell gets up every morning before sunrise, heads into the woods and grunts.

Not because it's so early. It's the term for coaxing worms from the ground by the hundreds to be scooped up and plopped in a tin can until he can sell them for fishing bait.

He pounds a two-foot (60-centimeter) wooden "stob" or stake into the earth and rubs it with a piece of flat iron. The vibration or "grunting" causes worms to panic, and they wriggle from the ground. For years it was just a guess why.

Vanderbilt University biological sciences professor Ken Catania wanted to expand on a theory put forth by Charles Darwin that worms may sense moles are pursuing them if the ground trembles.

He joined Revell and his wife, Audrey, on a recent expedition and concluded that when Revell rubs the stob, worms do indeed sense that the predators are digging through the earth to eat them. The worms hightail it to the surface, only to be scooped up by Revell for fish food instead.

"Ken calls me the giant mole-man," Revell said with a laugh as he carried his equipment deep into Tate's Hell State Forest. "All I'm doing is mimicking the mole but in a larger scale, you know what I'm saying? That's how come they come up in a large area."

On a recent day, Revell, who has been scooping up worms for some 50 years, was out with two other grunters as the first light filtered through Tate's Hell. The only sounds were crickets chirping, woodpeckers pecking, birds singing and mosquitoes and horse flies buzzing until Revell got to work.

The loud sound of metal pounding wood was followed by a steady, grunting rhythm as Revell got on his padded knees and began rubbing the stob. Almost immediately, worms starting to come up.

"They look good!" Revell yelled to his partners, clearly taking pride in his work. "Boy, that's pretty bait. Makes me want to go fishing."

For a good three yards around Revell, the ground was crawling and the other grunters were busy picking up worms.

"Oh yeah, it's magic," Revell said during a break. "There's an art to it. I've tried to teach people how to do it, and they just give up. You have to be really determined. It's got to be in your blood."