Invasive Jumping Worms Are Spreading Throughout the Country

by Taylor Cunningham
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There is a new invasive species threatening ecosystems around North America—Asian Jumping Worms.

The pest first showed up in Wisconsin and in parts of New England in 2013. And they quickly spread the states as far south as Georgia. And in that short time, they’ve already caused irrefutable damage.

Unlike most worms, the Asian jumping variety doesn’t help to enrich the soil. Instead, it has a “voracious” appetite for humus, which is a dark organic topsoil that’s formed by decaying insects, animals, and leaves. Plants, fungi, and other soil life depend on humus for nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

A lack of humus affects all layers of the food chain. Without enough, soil-dwelling insects have nowhere to live, which means birds that eat those insects also suffer, and so do the birds’ predators and prey.

“Soil is the foundation of life—and Asian jumping worms change it,” Mac Callaham, a Forest Service researcher and soil expert, wrote in a Southern Research Station blog post.

Asian Jumping Worms Can Leap a Foot Off the Ground

While the worms only became a known problem within the past decade, scientists believe they actually came to the US on potted plants in the early 1900s.

Because of the strange way they “thrash around” and “flip themselves a foot off the ground,” they’ve earned several nicknames, including “Jersey wriggles,” “Alabama jumpers,” and “crazy worms.”

Asian jumping worms look similar to typical earthworms with either gray or brown coloring and a creamy white collar that wraps around a portion of their bodies. The invasive pests grow between 1.5 and 8 inches long and move on the ground like a snake. When disturbed, they make their strange jumps.

“If these worms didn’t spread into forests and natural areas, they wouldn’t be such a problem,” Callaham added. “But unfortunately, they simply won’t stay where you put them. The best way to prevent future invasions is to avoid moving earthworms around.”

Officials are asking people to help stop the spread of the jumping worms by reporting sightings to specific apps. Northern residents can use EDDMapS. And those living in the South can use a sister app called SEEDN. To use either, people simply take a photo of a possible Asian jumping worm and a specialist will review it.

Gardeners should also take special precautions to ensure they don’t move larva or mature worms into other yards. When adding or transporting plants, people should remove all excess and pot them as bare roots. Or they should move them into sterile potting soil.