The New Jersey Worm Tornado Explained

Behold! The worm tornado. Before you turn away with disgust or fear, no, it is not the sign of an impending worm takeover.

Patch said a resident in Hoboken, New Jersey, was walking after a recent rainstorm when she noticed a strange sight. A group of earthworms seemed to be clustered around something, fanning out into a spiral onto the sidewalk. It honestly looks like a very loose tornado of worms on the ground. Some of the worms were wriggling, but the animals were not actively squirming towards the center. And there weren't any nearby drains that might cause the spiraling.

The resident sent the photo to New Jersey councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who then posted it on Twitter. Social media latched on the image, making jokes about the punctuality of early birds and that New Jersey should change its tourism materials to include worm tornadoes.

But what exactly caused this formation of earthworms? Have worms started to worship a new deity? Did aliens move on from crop circles and started to manipulate worms?

As always, science has most of the answers.

This is surprisingly not the first weird worm formation

According to LiveScience, worms tunnel to the surface after rainfall, so they don't drown. While worms are generally solitary creatures, they start herding when on the surface and communicate with each other to find safe ground to burrow under. Worms cluster together because, in order to communicate, they have to touch. The group of worms, then, influence where they migrate.

Most of the time, you're probably going to see small groups of earthworms hanging out together, though occasionally, you'll see some pretty weird clumps that can be disturbing. LiveScience pointed to a 2015 video posted by Texas Parks and Wildlife of a wriggling mass of worms as evidence of herding behavior. The cluster, or a worm blob, is more typical for worms species like the California blackworm. The blob is to protect them from drying out.

But a spiral is new to scientists, though they think it's just another form of herding behavior. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, told LiveScience that the tornado effect might have to do with changes in the soil's water and the shape of the ground. It's possible the sidewalk dips slightly. Worms follow the flow of water and that's why they seem to create a spiral around something. 

So, no, the worm tornado is not an omen of evil and they're not plotting to take over the world. And no, worms aren't preparing for the Worm Moon either.