PEORIA, Ill. - Jumping worms (Amynthas spp) are an invasive earthworm probably brought into the country as fishing bait. They go by many names, such as crazy worms, Alabama jumpers, or snake worms. These worms are known to change the soil structure, deplete available nutrients, damage plant roots, and alter water-holding capacity of the soil. This is especially a concern in our forests, where organic matter is limited. It is important to stop the spread of jumping worms. 

Appearance 

These jumping worms are 4 to 8 inches long. They have a dark, metallic body that is darker on top than the bottom. A characteristic smooth milky, white band called the clitellum completely encircles the worm's body, unlike other earthworms with a pink, raised band. When handled, these worms will "jump" and thrash wildly. They move quickly in a snakelike manner and can shed their tails when threatened.  

What to look for

Jumping worms are found in leaf litter and the top couple of inches of soil. Start looking for them in mid to late summer. Soil that looks like coffee grounds is a sign that jumping worms are present. One way to determine whether jumping worms are present is a mustard pour. 

Mix a gallon of water with 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed. Pour the mixture slowly onto the soil. This will drive the worms to the surface and does not harm plants.  

Hardiness

Adults jumping worms cannot survive the cold winters of Central Illinois. However, the very small, dark egg casings persist through the winter. Jumping worms are parthenogenic, which means that a single jumping worm can reproduce by creating viable egg casings.  

Damage

Jumping worms are voracious eaters, which causes them to grow twice as fast as other earthworms. This feeding changes the soil structure, altering the soil's water holding capacity and depletes the amount of nutrients available to plants. They also damage roots severely, causing weaker plants that are more susceptible to pests, drought, and disease.  

Management

There are currently no viable control measures for jumping worms. Removing adult jumping worms to decrease the number of egg casings produced is the best control available at this time. Adults placed in plastic bags and left in the sun die quickly. Dispose of the bag in the trash.

Prevention is the key

The good news is that there are measures each of us can take to stop the spread.  

  • 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°F
  • Follow Plant Sharing Best Practices
  • Do Not buy jumping worms for bait, vermicomposting, or gardens.

University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle is working with Extension Specialists and University of Illinois Plant Clinic to educate the public on this invasive species. Additional information can be found on Nicole’s ILRiverHort blog at extension.illinois.edu/blogs/ilriverhort or you can email Nicole at nflower2@illinois.edu.

SOURCE: Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, Extension Horticulture Educator

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

 

 

 

Additional Support Material for the News Release

 

Stop the spread

  • 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°F
  • Remove adult jumping worms.  Place adults in a plastic bag and leave in the sun at least 10 minutes. Dispose of the bag in the trash.
  • Remove soil from all plants before transporting them
  • Wash 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.
  • Follow Plant Sharing Best Practices

 

Best Practices for Sharing Plants to Stop the Spread of Invasive Species

Only accept plants

  • From gardeners that have looked for jumping worms 
  • That don't come from an area known to have jumping worms.
  • If there is no evidence (like soil that resembles coffee grounds) to suspect there are jumping worms at the site that produced these plants/materials.

Use these practices to prevent their spread:

  • Remove soil from all plants before transporting them
    • This limits the spread of weeds and worms by removing most earthworm egg cases or weed seeds.
  • Wash roots
    • Completely submerge plant roots in water and wash away remaining soil.
    • Actively look for worms.
    • Once clean, protect roots for transportation and sale. 
    • Water is enough to remove soil and other materials from the roots.
  • Sell bare-root plants when possible.
  • Repot with clean potting soil 
    • If plants must be sold in soil, repot with sterile potting soil. 
    • The best way to ensure clean soil is to purchase, from a reputable dealer, bagged and weed and pathogen-free potting soil.
  • Inspect mulch for signs of jumping worms
    • Do not use mulch, backyard compost, leaves, or other material that may harbor jumping worm eggs or weed seeds. 
    • Purchase materials from are a reliable source.  
    • Consider waiting to add materials to the garden to determine if signs of jumping worms develop 
  • Reduce chances of contamination
    • Gather and transport plants ready for sale on surfaces like concrete, tarps, or trays where the newly potted plants cannot pick up contaminated soil, leaves, or mulch.
    • Thoroughly clean garden tools and shoes after use.

University of Illinois Extension Invasive Species Update - Jumping Worms Fact Sheet