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Giant worm Dave breaks record - before scientists kill him to preserve his snake-like body

Dave, posing alongside a £5 note Credit: Natural History Museum

Earthworms can live for up to eight years - that is, unless they're as big as a snake and need to be euthanised in the name of science.

Dave the giant worm was spotted by Paul Rees wriggling around in his vegetable patch in Widnes, Cheshire. The gardener was so impressed with its size he retrieved the creature from the soil and alerted researchers at the Natural History Museum.

But not before his stepson George gave the slippery animal its moniker.

Dave, making contact with an Oyster card Credit: Natural History Museum

Dave was carefully packed off to the museum, where he was measured at 40 centimetres long and weighed in at 26g - making him three times longer and five times heavier than the average garden earthworm.

Excited researchers at the museum filmed their first meeting with Dave, showing the curious Lumbricus terrestris sliding around on scientist Emma Sherlock's hand.

"It's so cool," a man's voice is heard to say.

"He is amazing," Sherlock responds.

But then Dave had to die.

A spokesman for the Natural History Museum has assured ITV News that the process of putting Dave to sleep was "painless".

Waiting for Dave to expire naturally would have meant his body could not be preserved in optimum condition.

By becoming part of the scientific collection, this earthworm will have a legacy that lasts beyond all of our lifetimes, helping scientists today and tomorrow to understand and protect this species and their environment.

– Natural History Museum statement on Dave's death

Before Dave (RIP), the country's largest earthworms were found on the Scottish island of Rum, where one grew to to 39.6cm last year.

Even constricted, Dave is much bigger than an average worm Credit: Natural History Museum

However, Scotland's gargantuan worms could not match Dave for girth, with the heaviest weighing just 12.6g to Dave's 26g.

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.

– Natural History Museum scientist Emma Sherlock

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 remains a mystery.

"With worms this size Paul must have an incredibly fertile and well-drained veg plot with decaying matter quickly recycled back into the soil," Sherlock said. "Earthworms are incredibly important to keep soils healthy."

Emma Sherlock shows off Dave Credit: © Trustees of the NHM, London

Sherlock, who chairs the Earthworm Society of Britain, added: "I look forward to seeing if anyone can find an even bigger example by taking part in the Earthworm Watch survey this autumn."

Earthworm Watch is a survey of earthworms and soil quality run by the Natural History Museum and the Earthwatch Institute in association with the Earthworm Society of Britain.

But beware, successful applicants may not be around for long...