Any gardener, novice or master, is familiar with the gardener’s friend. They are little wiggly earthworms that love to crawl in and out of your garden soil. As decomposers, they help us recycle the waste into humus which makes the soil fertile. These little diggers also left underground holes left and right that improve soil aeration and drainage.
Are all those wiggly things your allies? Are they enemy spies that try to blend in? Well, not all of them! For instance, you do not want a jumping worm in your soil.
Gardeners need to learn how to identify jumping worms.
Which one is the beneficial common earthworm, and which one is the jumping worm?
Can you guess which one is the impostor? Exactly, they are practically twins (the left one is the common earthworm). All the more reason for gardeners to understand how to identify jumping worms!
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Let’s get to know the jumping worm!
#1 What is a jumping worm?
Before you learn how to identify jumping worms, you need to know what is a jumping worm in the first place! Know thine enemy!
To start, we need to know what a jumping worm is. The jumping worm is a street name for all members of the Amynthas genus. They are also known as the crazy worm, Alabama jumper, and snake worm.
Not only does their appearance resemble the earthworm, but they also have similar tastes in food. They enjoy the leaf litter, but the jumping worm stays in the topsoil. Unlike earthworms, jumping ones do not create helpful burrows underground. Instead, they produce sandy-textured infertile soil full of their castings (it means poop).
The jumping worm life-cycle creates a resilient enemy that can withstand any weather condition. Their cocoons appear at the end of summer to the beginning of autumn. They endure the harsh winter until they are ready to hatch in the springs. The maturing takes about 60 days of summer. On the remaining days of summer, they begin to reproduce and die.
In Wisconsin, Amynthas is on the list of restricted species. It means that their distribution is prohibited. Furthermore, they can’t be composted, bought, or used as fishing bait. Not only that they can change the surrounding soil condition, but they can also enable the emergence of invasive plants.
In short, the jumping worm is a big no-no!
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#2 What does a jumping worm look like?
So now let’s answer the most important question: what does a jumping worm look like?
When you poke the jumping worms, they jump. The Guardians reported in May 2022 that a jumping worm in California could jump up to a foot (30 cm). Their movement is snake-like, meaning they move in S-shape, compared to the crawling earthworms.
Earthworm babies look like transparent strings. On the contrary, jumping worm babies look similar to the adult version but without the yellowish band (clitellum). The babies are 1-3 cm long, but they can mature to reach up to 20 cm long. When they grow up, they develop a clitellum that looks far lighter than their darker bodies and is located closer to the tip.
Pointing out their cocoons feels like playing the nightmare mode of Where’s Waldo. In this scenario, Waldo means around 1-3 mm tiny eggs with the color of dirt. Different species have different cocoon diameters, but they are all unnoticeably tiny.
#3 Where are jumping worms found?
One of the most important aspects of how to identify jumping worms effectively is to understand their habitat.
The jumping worms come from Asia, and they are initially native to Korea and Japan. The first record of this creature’s existence in North America was in The 1930s. One theory suggests that they landed for the first time through some donated Japanese Cherry trees. They have conquered the Northern American region (the US and Canada) as their new home ever since.
These crazy worms were recently sighted near the forest of Northeastern US. The presence is quite noticeable since the topsoil leaf litter had almost gone completely. The hardwood trees are mainly dependent on the leaf litter topsoil to grow their roots. According to a CDFA prediction, the insatiable hunger of the jumping worms can erase this topsoil in only 2-5 years. The jumping worms would be detrimental to the forest ecosystem.
Brad Herrick, an Ecologist from UW-Madison Arboretum, and his team reported that the worms have moved out of the forest and into the urban green spaces. The jumping worm sightings are most apparently prominent in manmade spaces such as greenhouses, parks, house gardens, and even dumpsites.
The jumping worms, like any kind of worm, love to stay put. They become invasive pests because humans unknowingly sprinkle them here and there. They are mainly spread by human activities such as using them as fishing bait, repotting container plants, and using jumping worm-infested mulch as a fertilizer.
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Are they dangerous to humans?
Often mistaken as a worm that disrupts our digestive system, jumping worms are not harmful to humans. The danger they pose is more towards the environment and soil condition. As mentioned previously, the snake worms’ huge appetite can leave the soil barren and inhabitable for plants.
Even though there are many natural predators for worms, jumping worms are not predators’ favorite. Some even reported spitting them out. This is probably because of their highly active movement that predators might find unpleasant or straight-up yucky. When found in highly toxic metal soil, these crazy worms retain them inside their body. It leads to poisoning cases for predators. Chickens are rare birds that may find jumping worms tolerable as food.
How do you identify the jumping worms?
Firstly, take a closer look at the soil condition. The infested soil has a texture more like coffee ground rather than normal fertile dirt. If the soil is grainy and full of worm poops, it screams, “jumping worm party right this way!”.
Secondly, make sure to test the soil with the mustard pour and separate the jumping worms from the earthworms. Mix a gallon of water with 1/3 cup of ground hot yellow mustard. You can pour half of it into a square foot of land.
This mustard solution will not harm the worms but irritate their skin. Once you pour this into a patch of land, every worm will emerge like in a zombie apocalypse scene. When they do, pick and eliminate the jumping ones. They are the ones with thrashing movements, the light, non-raised clitellum, and the separable tail when handled roughly.
Lastly, burning time! Even though they are cold resistant, apparently not so much with the heat. The easiest way is to gather them up in a plastic bag and leave them to burn under the sunlight. Then, throw it in the trash can instead of the natural area to prevent further infestations. Other options besides sunbathing are tea meal organic fertilizer or the alcohol dip.
Now that you know how to identify jumping worms, perhaps you are also interested in how to deal with gophers! A fellow borrower.
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