The scary game of charming worms

You have probably heard of a snake charmer. This is a person who uses snakes particularly the venomous cobra to entertain people.

The charmer entertains his audience either by playing musical instruments as the snake sways in sync with his tunes or he dances with the reptile as it imitates his movements.

It sounds scary. This may not be entertaining especially to those who dread snakes. If you ask me, it should not even be described as charming, a word that means to delight or attract.

Now, snakes aside, there exists a sport that reflects the true sense of the word charming. In this game, friendly invertebrates are used and one’s charming skills are put to test.

The sport known as worm charming involves persuading worms to come out of the earth.

According to, worm charming was started in 1980 by a Mr John Bailey, a teacher at a school in England.

Bailey organised the event for the first time as a fun activity within a school festival. Astoundingly, during the occasion, a man successfully convinced 511 earthworms to leave the earth, consequently elevating the activity into a competitive sport.

Over the years, the game also known as worm grunting or worm fiddling has gained popularity across the world, specifically in Australia, the US, Canada and China, countries that now organise annual national competitions.

To participate in the game, a team must have three members, namely a charmer, a catcher and a counter.

The three are given a plot measuring three metres by three meters and are allowed a five minute warm up period before they start ‘charming’ the worms.

The competition lasts 30 minutes and whoever coaxes many worms to come to the surface is declared the winner.

To bring out the worms, competitors are free to use any method they wish for instance stamping the feet on the earth. However, use of detergents is banned.

Some of the commonest techniques used by participants include sprinkling the earth with water, tea, beer, playing musical instruments like xylophones, hitting the earth with a stick and most recently, blowing the earth with a vuvuzela.

These techniques bring worms out of the ground where they are then collected by the catcher, also known in the competition as a gillie.

The weather however contributes significantly in helping the worm charmers persuade worms to come out of the soil, reports

"When it is warm, with a bit of moisture in the air you expect participants to bring out many worms," says Mike Forster, who is described as the chief wormer.

Over the years, high stakes in the sport have made contestants devise ‘dirty’ tricks to win the competition.

According to, a charmer in 2009 was caught with hundreds of worms in his trouser ready to sprinkle on the ground during a world charming championships.

"We got suspicious when we saw him wearing bicycle clips and decided to inspect him," says Forster.

The winner of the competition is given a trophy shaped like a worm, a title he holds for one year.

On the other hand, a competitor who charms the heaviest worm is awarded a silver worm trophy, also held for a year.

But charming worms is not an easy task. During this years annual Woodhall Worm Charming Festival in Britain, the telegraph reports that of all the over a hundred entrants who took part in the competition, none managed to charm any worm despite using vuvuzelas and electric massagers.

"The dismal performance was not matched by the enthusiasm of those taking part. Not one of the entrants at the festival managed to persuade a single invertebrate to vacate its underground lair," reports the newspaper.

According to wikipedia, the current worm charming world record is held by 11-year-old Sophie Smith.

Smith, a Briton charmed 567 worms in 30 minutes during World Worm Charming Championship last year, smashing a 1980 record set by her countrymen.

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