The more we learn about jumping worms--also known as crazy snake worms, Alabama jumpers, and Asian worms-- the more concerned we are.
Nearly all earthworms found in the Northeast today are non-native, but jumping worms (Amynthas species) are extra concerning because they gobble up organic matter more quickly than their European counterparts, stripping the forest of the layer critical for seedlings and wildflowers. Jumping worms grow twice as fast, reproduce more quickly, and can infest soils at high densities. In areas where there is a heavy infestation, native plants, soil invertebrates, salamanders, birds and other animals may decline.
Mountainkeeper is following the invasion, and have complied resources and assembled experts. You can watch our panel discussion from December 7, 2021 here. Click "read more" for a jumping worm Q&A and additional resources.
Originally introduced from Asia via imported nursery stock, the highly invasive jumping worm is going wild in the Catskills. Because these worms consume such huge amounts of leaf material, they have the potential to change the very landscape of our iconic Catskill forests.
The following resources were compiled by Mountainkeeper as well as our expert panel, which included:
- Dr. Tim McCay, Colgate University,
- Dr. Rebecca Pinder, Columbia-Greene Community College, and
- John Thompson, Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership (CRISP).
We're grateful for their expertise and collaboration.
JUMPING WORMS INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
For further exploration about the world of jumping worms, our expert panel suggests the following resources.
Earthworms of the Great Lakes, by Cindy Hale
The Jumping Worm Homeowners Guide
An educational video from Cornell Cooperative Extension tells the story visually in this great claymation video.
Two scientific papers:
The second wave of earthworm invasions in North America: Biology, environmental impacts, management and control of invasive jumping worms. Biological Invasions 23:3291-3322.
Toolkit for monitoring and study of peregrine pheretimoid earthworms (Megascolecidae). Pedobiologia 83:150669.
WEBINAR Q & A
Are there any standards being created for Commercial Compost producers to ensure their product is Asian Jumping Worm-free?
Not to our knowledge. But, as John indicated in the webinar, if compost is certified “weed-free” it should be Jumping Worm-free as well.
Generally, how long does it take for an infestation to have significant impacts on a garden, yard or forest ecosystem (a year, ten years)?
This is hard to answer because it will depend on the quality of the habitat and we have little data to go on. But, based on what we know about their rate of egg production, it is probably closer to 10 (or more) years than 1 year. It takes several years for a small introduction to build up to the numbers necessary for large impacts.
How do you destroy the cocoons?
Currently the only known agent that will kill the cocoons is heat.
Does the collar identify them? (smooth vs. raised)?
A smooth collar that completely encircles the body is diagnostic in the Northeast.
Since they are attracted to mulch, could it not be used as a lure?
We do not know how far (or even whether) they can sense mulch or other organic matter. It likely would not attract them from a very large distance.
On the map, what do the orange dots with a dark border mean?
Both the orange dots and pink dots are locations where Jumping Worms have been reported
Where do we report outside of Catskills?
iMapInvasives can be used to report Jumping Worms anywhere in the US, and can be downloaded via iTunes or Google Play. More info here.
Are there Jumping Worms on Long Island?
If I collect adults, do I roast them, or suffocate them, or what?
Dropping them in vinegar or rubbing alcohol may be the best way to euthanize them. These methods keep them from spoiling before you discard them.
I read that the worms lay cocoons at a rate of one every other day. Since I have still found some adult worms last week here in PA, although they seemed quite sluggish, do they still have the capacity to lay eggs in cold weather if they are still alive?
We found that in the lab they slow down their egg production (to once a week or slower) a few weeks before they die. Also, when they are cold, their metabolism slows, which also should reduce egg production. We have no data from the field on this.
Please tell me if everyone is sharing their research across the country?
Yes, there are several collaborative networks for Jumping Worm researchers (including “JWORM”), and colleagues meet and talk regularly.
Is there anything we can do to restore the soil/prevent erosion?
In gardens, adding organic matter to the soil and keeping plants rooted there should help. When infestations are large, however, it can be a continual battle to maintain an organic layer. In forests, solutions will be even more difficult and unclear.
Why has it taken so long to start seriously researching a solution?
The research that has been done has identified some things that will kill them (e.g., vinegar, solutions containing saponins). However, the trickier question is “what can be used that will not kill everything else or ruin a garden?” This is where research has slowed, and there may not be an easy answer. Labs at the University of Vermont and University of Wisconsin are working hard to develop control treatments. Biocontrol treatments, which tend to be the most durable and specific in the long run, take a very long time to develop, test, and get approved.
Is using wood or leaf mulch in flower beds making the situation worse? Should I stop mulching my gardens with shredded leaves?
This is tricky because mulch can be so useful in retaining moisture and controlling weeds. We assume from the question that you already have Jumping Worms in your gardens. If so, adding mulch will probably increase their numbers. This is a tradeoff that is difficult to be prescriptive about.
You mentioned their preference for wood chip mulch. Do you advise against it… what should be used instead?
Right now we do not know whether there are other ground covers that are less suitable for them.
Can you limit their spread once they are established?
This is difficult. They move relatively (for a worm) large distances on their own. If you are able to keep their numbers in check (with hand culling or limiting the use of mulch and compost), that should slow their spread.
What are the natural control mechanisms that keep these worms in check in their native continents? Is there any research into how Asian Jumping Worm populations are managed in their Native habitat(s) that might be relevant for ecosystem management here?
Native, natural control mechanisms are largely unknown. These three species are not problematic in Japan and are not actively managed by people.
Will voles and moles eat jumping worms?
Voles do not generally eat invertebrates. To our knowledge, no one has observed whether moles will consume them.
Is there an eradication protocol that DEC is following or recommends? Or should we just report them for now?
Currently, no eradication protocol is being recommended. Reporting and avoiding spread are recommended.
Can they swim in lakes and ponds?
They can survive for many hours submerged in water, if it is sufficiently oxygenated. Locomotion under water has not been studied.
When do Jumping Worms deposit cocoons?
As soon as they have a collar they can start (usually June in NY) and will continue until they die (usually November-December in NY).
Do deer exclosures or very aggressive deer management affect Jumping Worm abundance?
This is currently unknown, but there is an ongoing study in the Catskills that is looking at jumping worm populations and their effects inside and outside of deer exclosures.
Please state again the name of the invasive that has been used to "dissolve" the jumping worms.
Bipalium adventitium, the hammerhead worm (a flatworm)
At what temperature do they die?
The temperature tolerance of adults has not been studied, but we assume that they are not freeze tolerant. (Their layer of castings provides some insulation to them, which can help them survive cold snaps in the fall and early winter.) The eggs are tolerant of freezing temperatures but can be killed by heat. A lab study found that 105 degrees F for three days killed them.
Why aren’t their feces like the alchemical gold that our European earthworms create?
Their feces (castings) might actually be nutrient-rich. The problem is not with the nutrients but with their consistency. The stability of the upper soil is reduced in infested areas. This can be a problem for plants that root close to the surface. It also can lead to erosion of that upper layer in places with a slope.
Are there any recommendations for plant species that seem to have better survivability in infested soil? We live on a hill that is forested and largely infested, so erosion is a concern.
This is currently unknown. There are two ongoing studies looking into this that we know of–one focusing on the tolerance of some native forest species and the other focusing on garden plants (ornamental and vegetables). So, some results should be forthcoming. In the meantime, you might try experimenting at your site. Try plants that have deeper roots and are less susceptible to shallow-soil instability.
We use compost made through the process of vermiculture. Our city collects yard waste as well as food in exchange for a bucket of compost soil. Can this process spread the eggs of jumping worms into our yard and around the community?
Only if there are Jumping Worms in the vermiculture system. Likely, your city has a system that uses Eisenia fetida. These worms are no problem. (They rarely move out of gardens into surrounding natural areas.) We suggest asking the managers of the system whether they monitor for Jumping Worms or do anything to resist contamination.