Watch out for 'jumping worms': How Missouri, Illinois gardeners can stop invasive species


ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Many gardeners may not know this, but your soil is possibly under attack by creatures many believe to be allies – worms.

Conservation experts in both Missouri and Illinois are warning people about the dangers of a specific species of worm that go by many names, such as jumping worms, crazy worms, Alabama jumpers or snake worms.

You'll recognize these worms by their dark, metallic body that is darker on top than the bottom and a smooth milky, white band. They grow to about 4 to 8 inches long and when disturbed, these worms will "jump" and thrash wildly. They move quickly in a snakelike manner and can shed their tails when threatened.

Photo credit (University of Illinois)

The jumping worms have been found in urban areas of Missouri and Illinois. They are an exotic species of earthworm found across the Midwest that likely came from Europe long ago.

So why are they so bad? We'll, Agriculture and Natural Resources professor Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle at the University of Illinois says they are known to change the soil structure, deplete available nutrients, damage plant roots, and alter water-holding capacity of the soil.

"Jumping worms are voracious eaters, which causes them to grow twice as fast as other earthworms," she writes. "They also damage roots severely, causing weaker plants that are more susceptible to pests, drought, and disease."

Both Flowers-Kimmerle and the Missouri Department of Conservation are asking people to kill the worms if you see them. You can place the adult worms in a plastic bag and leave it in the sun for at least 10 minutes, then dispose of the bag in the trash.

The good news is, there are ways to prevent the invasive species from spreading further:
• Thoroughly clean tools, shoes, and vehicles when moving from one site to another.
• Only purchase compost, mulch, or other organic matter that has been heated to appropriate temperatures and duration to reduce the spread of pathogens, insects, and weeds. Jumping worm egg casings do not survive temperatures over 104°FRemove adult jumping worms.
• Remove soil from all plants before transporting themWash roots by completely submerging plant roots in water and washing away remaining soil. Water is enough to remove soil and other materials from the roots.
• Buy bare-root plants when possible.
• Do Not buy jumping worms for bait, vermicomposting, or gardens.

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