A Karoo thunderstorm is a wondrous, scary thing.
This is a time when giant two-metre earthworms rear up out of their burrows and find a road to cross. Startled motorists spot them more often than scientists.
South Africa has the largest earthworm ever found, according to the international Worm Digest digital archives.
A giant worm measuring nearly seven metres (22 feet) was found beside a road near King William’s Town back in 1967.
Australians, who have the much smaller Giant Gippsland Earthworm (only one metre long, on average), devote a whole worm-shaped museum to them. And they’ve put them under protection, because the worms were thought to be vanishing fast because of pesticide use.
No one yet seems too concerned about whether our slimy Karoo Big Boys are also vanishing. Or even to what extent they have added to the still-impressive fertility of the Karoo soils.
Microchaetus skeadi shows a preference for the Karoo and Eastern Cape, and although seldom seen, is listed as of the most interesting inhabitants of the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock.
Giant earthworms are preyed upon by giant golden moles and also the odd person seeking fishing bait.
The late Jan Pampoen of Steytlerville would sometimes grab a crowbar, climb on a bicycle and go to the town’s desert-like golf course after rains to look for earthworm mounds and casts.
About half a metre underground, he’d find two, three or four of these big earthworms, all wound together.
He used to sell fishermen wanting to catch barbel or eel in the Gamtoos River. Or to lodge owners who want to show their bug-eyed guests that there’s always something strange in a Karoo neighbourhood…