Crazy Worms on the Crawl

In 2015, the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced that a new invasive species, the jumping worm (Amynthas spp.) was identified in Illinois for the first time. Until now, the closest identification was in Wisconsin in 2013.

This earthworm is native to East Asia but has been sold in the United States as bait under the names crazy worm, Alabama jumper, and snake worms. The worm has characteristic coloration and behavior. When disturbed, jumping worms become very active, wriggling and thrashing vigorously. Adult worms are approximately the same size as the naturalized earthworms, but are much darker. Most of the tissue is dark gray/brown, with a milky white bad of tissue (the clitellum) circling the body. The clitellum is also smooth, compared to other species which are raised.

Crazy worms change the soil, by disrupting the natural decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor. They turn good soil into grainy, dry worm castings (poop) that cannot support the understory plants of our forests. Other plants, animals and fungi disappear because the understory community can no longer support them.

Crazy worms in residential and urban areas can also cause harm to ornamental plantings and turf. More than others, crazy worms have a voracious appetite, speedy life cycle and a competitive edge. In fact, in areas with crazy worms there are no other species of earthworm.

Recommendations to prevent the spread of jumping worms and their eggs include cleaning equipment before moving it to another site, reducing the transportation of mulch and soil, and carefully inspecting nursery plants before installing them in a new landscape. There are no chemical controls to kill these or any other species of earthworm.

Before you freak out too much, please be aware that nearly every earthworm you’ve ever seen in the US is an imported, non-native earthworm. The following information came from an article from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (http://ecosystems.serc.si.edu/earthworm-invaders/ ):

Almost every earthworm in most of the U.S. came from somewhere else. Native earthworms all but disappeared more than 10,000 years ago, when glaciers from a Pleistocene ice age wiped them out. A few survived further south. But today, virtually all earthworms north of Pennsylvania are non-native.

New earthworms began entering North America as early as the 1600s, with the first European settlers. They crossed over in root balls or the dry ballast of ships. As the British, French, Spanish and Dutch colonized the American continent, they were largely oblivious to another colonization going on under their feet. European earthworms thrived in the upper soils of forests and gardens. Native earthworms, if there were any, remained deeper underground. In the end Europe’s earthworms established an empire that would long outlive any built by its nations. Many of the earthworms most common in gardens today, including the familiar red worm Lumbricus rubellus, trace their origins back to the Old World.

Most gardeners love having earthworms in their soil. But in forests, their invasion has been far more destructive.

It’s an ironic truth—the traits that make earthworms wonderful for gardens are the same ones that make them dangerous for forests. Earthworms stir up the soil, making nutrients more accessible to flowers and vegetables. But plants in forests have evolved other ways to get nutrients from the ground. When earthworms convert them into easier-to-access forms, it can favor invasive plants that later take over the understory.

If you happen to encounter a possible crazy / jumping worm, please use ReportIN app on your smart phone to report a possible crazy worm. If you need to install the app, it can be downloaded at http://www.eddmaps.org/indiana/

Without a smartphone or the APP, you may also report by email to DEPP@dnr.in.gov .