Move over killer hornets, a new bad boy is in town: The Asian Jumping Worm – better known in this politically correct time we live in as a jumping worm.
That comes from Asia.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put out a warning this week to be on the lookout for this creepy invasive species that, if let loose in your yard, will wreak havoc on your lawn and garden.
According to Laura Van Riper, the DNR terrestrial invasive species coordinator, jumping worms are a type of earthworm that looks similar but when disturbed go crazy and start wiggling so intensely that it looks like they are jumping.
Matthew Miller, a writer for Cool Green Science, one described the experience of meeting the slithering soil dweller from the Far East like this: “Disturb a jumping worm and it’s like a nightcrawler on steroids: It violently writhes on the forest floor, recalling a snake in a bad horror movie. Try to catch it, a piece of its tail will detach in your hand — still wriggling as you hold it.”
The worm has been present in Minnesota since 2006 or so, when they were discovered near the Twin Cities, some of the western suburbs and near Rochester, but now they are apparently being found in other places.
The spread has been slow, but if the DNR is now sharing details about it with the public, it probably means human/jumping worm interactions are increasing, and the agency is warning gardeners and anglers to avoid them.
“Jumping worms are a relatively new invasive species in Minnesota and they are a threat to gardens and forests,” Riper said. “They make rich soil more like coffee grounds. They eat plant roots, damaging garden plants and sod.”
While jumping worms can’t be legally introduced into the environment in Minnesota and are also a poor choice for bait because they break into segments when handled, that doesn’t mean they can’t be spread by accident.
When it comes to fishing, many anglers prefer worms or nightcrawlers during certain times of the year and the DNR says to not buy worms advertised as jumping worms, “snake worms,” “Alabama jumpers” or “crazy worms” for any purpose.
Anglers should dispose of any unwanted bait worms in the trash, officials say, and if they come across anything resembling the jumping variety, they should contact the DNR.
Gardeners should inspect incoming mulch or plants for jumping worms and if swapping plants with friends, wash off the soil and share the plants as bare root plants.
Like most things Minnesotans find annoying (the Packers, Chronic Wasting Disease), the jumping worm has called Wisconsin home for quite some time – since 2013 to be exact.
According to information on the state’s DNR page, the worms feed ravenously on organic matter in soil, leaf litter and mulch and excrete grainy-looking, hard little pellets that alter the texture and composition of soil.
Besides consuming nutrients that plants, animals, fungi and bacteria need to survive, the resulting soil, which resembles large coffee grounds, provides poor structure and support for many understory plants. Invasive species will move in when native plants die.
According to Matthews, they’re adaptable and difficult to stop and they are parthenogenetic, which means they can reproduce without fertilization. The introduction of a single individual is enough to launch a jumping worm invasion.
And while the worms have an annual life cycle and die in the fall, the leave tiny cocoons that spend the winter in the soil.
Interestingly enough, the Asian variety of worm isn’t the only invasive version of the preferred treat for panfish everywhere – regular old earthworms aren’t native to this continent either.
According to Matthews, no native earthworms have existed on the North American continent since before the Ice Age.
That means forests and other habitats have evolved without them, despite the praise.
But, as Matthews writes, “people love earthworms.”
And so they have been spread far and wide by anglers looking to land a walleye, and by gardeners looking to grow great tomatoes and by composters looking to, ah, compost.
The nightcrawler, a very popular tool in the angler’s toolbox, actually comes from Europe and got here over thousands of years, and while they do consume a lot of soil type stuff and recycle that biologically to change the soil in such a way that can help you grow a great garden, what they do in northern forests isn’t exactly a positive experience.
“Earthworms change the environment to suit their needs,” says Brad Herrick, ecologist and research program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. “When they are introduced, they make a host of physical, chemical and biological changes to the soil environment.”
Essentially, as Matthews writes, “worms turn the forest floor — a complex community of plants, invertebrates and microbes – into a completely different habitat.”
What that means today is that if the he jumping worm were to establish itself in the Upper Midwest, it could create a whole host of problems in the native soil.
“We think the changes to native habitats will be similar to other earthworms but even more dynamic,” says Herrick.
Thanks again 2020.