WHAT IS A JUMPING WORM?
You might think they are your typical Earth Worm, but they are browner or gray in color and their bands are usually white. Asian Jumping Worms, also known as snake worms, crazy worms and Alabama Jumpers, get their name from the way they thrash and spring into the air when held. Asian jumping worms are spreading in the Midwest, and they can cause serious damage to your yard.
BUT I THOUGHT WORMS WERE GOOD FOR MY YARD!
Unlike most other earthworms, which prefer lower layers of soil, jumping worms prefer the top layer where organic material needed for plant growth is concentrated. They quickly eat the organic matter in the topsoil which makes it difficult for plants to grow and other soil animals to survive. Soil in heavily invaded areas takes on a distinctive grainy, coffee ground-like consistency. At high abundance jumping worms can DESTROY turf grass.
BUT THEY ARE A WORM, HOW MUCH DAMAGE COULD THEY CAUSE?
They appear in large numbers, where there is one, there are always more. Their populations are very large, they can reproduce several times during a single growing season. These worms are hungry and reproduce quickly. Jumping worms don’t need a mate, they have both male and female reproductive organs. They burrow into the soil and lay tiny cocoons. Adult worms die during the winter, but their cocoons survive, hatch in spring, and start the cycle again. Cocoons are as tiny as mustard seeds and greatly resemble small bits of dirt. They are hard to see and so often unknowingly moved in soil, mulch, potted plants, etc.
HOW CAN WE GET RID OF ASIAN JUMPING WORMS?
There are currently not any chemicals to combat Asian jumping worms, but if they are contained in small areas, you can try heating the soil to sterilize it. Cover wet soil with clear plastic during the summer when daytime temperatures are high. Take soil temps readings 3-4 inches deep, using a compost thermometer. When temperatures consistently remains above 104 degrees F for three to five days, both the worms and cocoons will die. Winter temperatures of minus 12 degrees F are required to winter-kill cocoons. The University of Wisconsin has found that irrigating with a solution made of one-third cup dry mustard powder added to a gallon of water, will irritate the worms, driving them to the soil surface where you can hand pick and kill them. Diatomaceous earth turned into the top two inches of soil, plus a thin layer added to the soil surface may have moderate results in killing worms.
WHERE ARE ASIAN JUMPING WORMS BEING SITED?
Asian jumping worms were brought to North America in the 19th century, believed to have migrated in plants and other horticultural and agricultural materials. They have since spread and can be found in more than a dozen states in the Midwest, to include Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP THEIR SPREAD?
Asian jumping worms can’t move very far on their own, they are spread far due to human and animal activity. Their main way to get around the landscape is their cocoons, which are usually mistaken as dirt.
– If you find them, put them in a sealed bag and throw them in the trash. Do not put them back in your yard or compost pile.
– Clean dirt off any machinery before you move it to a new area.
– Check any plants, soil or compost you buy for worms before you use it.
– If possible, remove the soil from any plants you buy for your landscape and throw it away in a sealed plastic bag.
– Arrive clean, leave clean. Clean soil and debris from vehicles, equipment, and personal gear before moving to and from a work area!
– If you buy worms for fishing or vermiculture, make sure they’re not jumping worms.
References / For More Information:
- Asian jumping worms: ID, impact, and prevention via Purdue University – https://www.purduelandscapereport.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Asian-jumping-worms-ID-impact-and-prevention.pdf
- Asian Jumping Worm article by University of Nebraska Invasive Species Program – https://neinvasives.com/species/insects/asian-jumping-worm
- Asian Jumping Worms article by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Invasives/fact/jumpingWorm.html
- Invasive Asian Jumping Worms: What Gardeners Need to Know by The Joe Gardener Show – https://joegardener.com/podcast/invasive-jumping-worms/
- Highly Invasive Jumping Worms Have Spread to 15 States via Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/highly-invasive-jumping-worms-have-spread-15-us-states-180977566/