KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A species of wiggling worms can jump a foot in the air, and they’ve spread to more than a dozen states in the Midwest, including Kansas and Missouri.
The jumping worm, also known as Alabama jumpers, snake worms and other names, are invasive earthworms, originally native to east Asia.
They thrash wildly when disturbed, have snakelike movements and sometimes shed their tail in defense, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
These worms have experts increasingly worried as they spread across the country. But besides some odd jumping, what’s the big deal?
The U.S. Forest Service says Asian jumping worms eat a lot. “They are never satiated,” the agency writes.
And in the end, after feeding their unending appetites, the Missouri Department of Conservation says established populations of jumping worms can make the soil look like coffee grounds.
That soil won’t be able to retain moisture, and Smithsonian Magazine reports the topsoil will be depleted of nutrients, making it difficult for plants to grow.
To make matters worse, jumping worms grow twice as fast and reproduce more quickly than other earthworms, a Cornell University study says. The worm’s tiny eggs can even survive a Midwest winter.
So what do you do if you find these worms in your garden or yard? First make sure you know how to spot a jumping worm, as opposed to Kansas and Missouri’s more common earthworms.
Missouri’s conservation department describes jumping worms as:
- Lighter on bottom surface; darker on top
- Skin is grayish or brownish, glossy, sometimes iridescent
- Clitellum (collarlike band about a quarter of the distance behind the head) is creamy white and is smooth (not raised or swollen looking); it completely encircles the body
- Generally slender, dry, smooth, and firm (not slimy and thick like our more familiar earthworms)
If you have jumping worms, unfortunately these pests are extremely hard to control, and once they’re established widely, jumping worms are practically impossible to completely get rid of.
If you find a small population, jumping worms’ tails separate from their bodies when caught, so experts say the best way to get rid of it is to seal it in a plastic bag, leave it in the sun for 10 minutes and then toss it in the trash.
Experts also recommend people don’t buy jumping worms as fishing bait, gardening or composting, and only purchase compost and mulch from manufacturers that have heat-treated the material to an appropriate temperature.
Finally, be careful when moving or sharing plants. Always check for worms first to avoid spreading them to new places.