Worm charming goes viral

A video clip about catching worms has had almost 1.5 million views on TikTok.
Screenshot Instagram

In 2017, professor of Soil Biology Jan Willem van Groenigen organized a worm-charming competition for fun. He got the idea from England, where there is a tradition of charming and catching worms. The Wageningen event was known to a select few. Until now. A clip Resource made that lasts barely half a minute has been a huge hit on the socials.

It all started Friday afternoon, says Coretta Jongeling, who manages Resource’s social media channels. She created the hit video clip last Friday afternoon as her final task before the long weekend. The images had been recorded a day earlier by her colleague Dominique Vrouwenvelder, who was amazed by what she saw. ‘At first I thought: have I come to the right place? I couldn’t believe my eyes.’

Carnival atmosphere

In worm charming, it is not so much about maximizing the number of worms you catch as about how you do that. That means bizarre methods and outfits more normally associated with Carnival. The clip gives a good impression of this, and seems to be appreciated by a lot of people. The video has already been viewed 1.4 million (!) times on TikTok and has chalked up 192,000 views on Instagram, and those numbers are still rising. No fewer than 25,000 people have watched the video more than once.

I have never gone viral at all, let alone on TikTok

Jan Willem van Groenigen, Soil Biology professor

Van Groenigen is of course delighted. ‘I have never gone viral at all, let alone on TikTok.’ He doesn’t really get it either. ‘You spend a few hours on preparation, buy stuff for a couple of hundred euros in the supermarket and this is the result. Maybe people need some distraction from all the depressing news. Last year, we made it to the science pages of De Volkskrant newspaper.’


The event was actually supposed to take place a month earlier, but had to be postponed due to circumstances. That is why only eight teams took part this year compared with 18 last year. Incidentally, participation is by invitation only. In addition to WUR chair groups, the teams also include worm catchers from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) and the Louis Bolk Institute. According to Van Groenigen, at heart it’s about ‘having an enjoyable time and friendly competition together with your colleagues’.

Despite the huge interest in the event, Van Groenigen says at present there are no plans to scale it up. ‘Its small scale is part of its charm. And animal welfare is a consideration too, as you are obviously working with living creatures. At present, we have groups of people who know how to deal with worms. In principle, all the worms survive the experience. But that won’t necessarily be the case if you make the event open to all.’

The worm video has set a high bar for Resource. Jongeling says popular topics usually get tens of thousands of views. ‘The Palestine demonstration last week was seen by 35,000 people on Instagram. So the attention this video is attracting is really unprecedented.’   

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