Outrage is bubbling over the death of the UK’s largest earthworm ever – after he was euthanised in the name of science.
Dave, as he was named, wriggled his way into the record books after surfacing in Cheshire.
The 40cm (15.7 inch) annelid, weighing 26g, is the size of a small snake and the largest earthworm ever found in the UK.
But Dave’s fame was short-lived – for soon after was he delivered to the Natural History Museum – he was promptly put to sleep.
Natural History Museum scientist Emma Sherlock appeared on BBC Breakfast on Friday morning, where she admitted: “We anaesthetised the animal… we were as kind as we possibly could be.
“That’s the kind of sad bit of science but yeah.. he will be around now forever more. Dave is gonna be kind of immortal now.”
Sian Elizabeth wrote: “Absolutely #JusticeforDave this was a senseless death. Dave died simply for being special. If science is supposed to better the lives of living things, it has a funny way of showing it!”
“Disgusting!! killing something to preserve it when it could have lived longer and grown bigger is senseless science . Her gleefully grinning attitude worried me. I realise this was just Dave the worm but how do we know its not happening to other critters all in the name of science,” complained Heather McIntyre.
Paul Rees from Widnes spotted the monster Lumbricus terrestris in his vegetable patch. His stepson George named it Dave.
Sherlock, who chairs the Earthworm Society of Britain, said: “I was bowled over by the size of this worm when I opened the plastic box they sent it in. Not only is it really long, it is almost twice as heavy as any other wild earthworm ever seen, weighing the same as a small chocolate bar.”
Compared with Dave, the earthworms from the Scottish island of Rum that were previously thought to be the UK’s largest look positively puny.
The longest of the Scottish worms, unearthed in 2015, grew to 39.6cm (15.6 inches), but were on the skinny side, none weighing more than 12.6g.
Experts believe the earthworms of Rum flourished because of a lack of predators and rich soil.
How Dave got to be such a size in Cheshire - three times longer and more than five times heavier than an average worm - remains a mystery.
Sherlock said: “With worms this size Paul must have an incredibly fertile and well-drained veg plot with decaying matter quickly recycled back into the soil. Earthworms are incredibly important to keep soils healthy.”
She added: “I look forward to seeing if anyone can find an even bigger example by taking part in the Earthworm Watch survey this autumn.”