Image: Palouse earthworm
Kelly Weaver  /  Univ. of Idaho via AP
This adult giant Palouse earthworm, found in 2010, measures nearly 12 inches.
updated 7/25/2011 6:43:41 PM ET 2011-07-25T22:43:41

An animal legendary across the Palouse grasslands of Idaho and Washington because it is so hard to find isn't rare enough that it warrants federal protection, at least not yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

The giant Palouse earthworm isn't cute and cuddly, but it does have friends — conservation groups that in 2009 petitioned the agency to list the worm under the Endangered Species Act.

"We have a lot of questions yet to answer about this species," Robyn Thorson, head of the agency's Pacific region, said in a statement. "According to recent information, they may be more widespread and exist in more habitat types than we previously thought. We also don't know if they are a deep-burrowing species that forages on the surface or a more shallow-burrowing species that forages in top soil layers — questions that are relevant to assessing potential threats to the species.

"If we don't know where these animals live and we can't determine the level and type of threats, we cannot determine whether the protection of the (Endangered Species) Act is required," Thorson added.

Story: Idaho scientists find fabled worm

Nicknamed giants because of reports a century ago of specimens three feet long, the worm in recent decades has only rarely been found and then at 12 inches or less.

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