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Nature’s Turn

Do you harbor a silent invasion of destructive jumping worms?
“The jumping worm is not yet established in much of the northern United States. The time is now to keep it from becoming the next invasive species horror story. …
The introduction of a single individual is enough to launch a jumping worm invasion.”

A few weeks ago, a chance phone call from field biologist friends in Hillsdale, NY marked the dawn of my searing awakening to a wrenching threat that – I would discover – was already growing in one of my gardens in Mt. Washington, MA and may be inhabiting land you love, too. Upon answering the telephone, I had simply asked Kathy, “How are you?” She was clearly distressed as she described digging up, killing and disposing of thousands of alien earthworms, known as jumping worms, captured over seven years in her acre and a half property: from underneath patio stones, the lawn, gardens and roadside hedges.

I hasten to offer that, once I uncovered my relatively small, confined infestation, I seized the moment. Acting with full force over a weekend, I dug and killed 200 worms from a 5 foot by 15 foot bed where I am now solarizing the earth – seeming, at present, to have stopped the spread. Understanding that prevention is the only way to manage this threat, I am writing to convey what I have learned, to urge readers to look with awareness on your grounds and, if jumping worms are present, take the actions outlined below.

jumping worms

Mass of jumping worms set out to desiccate in a
metal wheelbarrow in full sun. Vigorously thrashing,
muscular like snakes, individuals climbed the
edges of the wheelbarrow, mounting a formidable
effort to escape. Photo Credit: Judy Isacoff

Why are these worms a serious threat? Why is it crucial that we heed the inconvenient truth of their presence in our environment with all pro-active strategies? Jumping worms consume and degrade soil, which threatens the future of gardens, forests and lawns. And, loosely quoted from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, “They reproduce easily, are asexual (parthenogenetic, do not require mates), and mature in just 60 days, so each year they can have two hatches. From September until the first hard frost, their population will double and may reach damaging levels.”

We begin our efforts to respond to the threat by distinguishing between the two common, long-established species in our gardens, nightcrawlers and red-wigglers, and the distinctly different jumping or snake worm. They are up to 8 inches long, muscular like snakes, usually numerous in the top few inches of soil and vigorously thrash and jump when disturbed. To learn more about alien jumping worms and how to prevent unknowingly bringing them to your property, and prevent the spread if you have them, I quote the following page from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension Program website https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/jumpingcrazysnake-worms-amynthas-spp
“It is not currently known how many eggs each adult can lay in the wild, however in laboratory settings, up to 30 cocoons with 2 eggs each have been observed. Frost kills the adults, and the egg-filled cocoons (which are about the size of a mustard seed) overwinter. Cocoons are resistant to cold and drought conditions. They are very difficult to detect due to their tiny size, and dirt-like color. As such, they can be very easily moved in soil, mulch, compost, potted plants, etc. Physically removing jumping worm cocoons is impractical.

Prevention
Some preventative measures that concerned citizens can utilize include but are not limited to:
● Learn how to recognize jumping worms and teach your family, friends, colleagues, land care workers, etc.
● Look for jumping worm adults and their grainy, dried coffee ground-like castings. Not seeing the adults on the substrate surface, but have reason to believe they may be there? Try mixing a gallon of water and 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed and pouring that slowly over the soil/area with suspicious castings. If present in that location, the worms will be irritated (not killed) and brought to the surface where they can be collected for identification.
● Do not purchase worms advertised as jumping worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers, or crazy worms for any purpose (e.g. composting or fishing baits).
● Anglers: never dispose of unused fishing baits into the environment. Always throw away unwanted bait worms in the trash.
● Gardeners: look for evidence of jumping worms in soil, compost, mulch, potted plants, etc. If you see coffee ground-like castings in these materials or notice jumping worm adults, report them. Do not move materials known to contain jumping worms to new locations. (Clean tools, boots and machinery to avoid spreading cocoons. J.I.)
● Composters: heat materials to the appropriate temperatures and duration following protocols that reduce pathogens. Recent research suggests that heating the cocoons of jumping worms to somewhere around 104°F for 3 days will kill the egg-containing cocoons.

What to do if you already have jumping worms on your property?

● Do not panic. If the worms are located in one area of the property, take precautions to prevent moving them to other areas of the property or new locations. (Ex. do not move plants from the infested area to new spots.)
● Remove and destroy any adult jumping worms if you see them. This can be done by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water or sealing them in a plastic bag. (See my sun-drying method, which avoids the terrible smell of drowning. J.I.)
● Do not attempt to manage the worms with chemicals or products that are not labeled for that purpose. Currently, there are no pesticides or approved methods to manage jumping worms. Using products without this use explicitly included on the label is illegal.”

blog.nature.org/science/2016/10/31/jumping-worm-the-creepy-damaging-invasive-you-dont-know
gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pests-and-diseases/pests/management/soil-solarization.html
http://ccecolumbiagreene.org/climate-change-and-the-environment/invasive-nuisance-species/invasive-pests/jumping-worm-amynthas-spp-1 ,

Resources
Excellent links to more information Cornell Cooperative Extension Jumping Worm

http://ccecolumbiagreene.org/climate-change-and-the-environment/invasive-nuisance-species/invasive-pests/jumping-worm-amynthas-spp-1
Archive of earth and sky articles by Judy Isacoff https://theberkshireedge.com/author/jisacoff/