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The last two years have been a little crazy, to say the least. We’ve learned about some interesting and potentially harmful pest species like spotted lanternflies in the east, Mormon crickets in the west, and Joro spiders coming from the sky (we’re only kind of kidding about this). But there’s another crazy pest in town.
Enter: Asian jumping worms. We know what you’re thinking – worms that jump?! Don’t get too anxious yet. We spoke to the experts at Ehrlich to learn more about this invasive species to calm your nerves. Read on to learn where Asian jumping worms are found in the United States and what to do if you find them in your yard.
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Asian jumping worms are native to Southeast Asia and are considered to be an invasive species in the United States. They are non-native as they did not develop alongside other native species of worms. Some people believe they were brought to the United States through potted plants while others believe they may have been brought here as fishing bait. No matter the reason, they are spreading quickly.
Asian jumping worms are fairly common in the east. They came to the United States in the 19th century and since then have spread to over 20 states up and down the east coast. As of more recently, they are starting to spread west into states like Texas and Oklahoma.
Asian jumping worms prefer the habitats of parks and forests and even a cozy backyard like yours. In a yard, they are relatively easy to spot as they hang on the surface of soil and in leaf litter.
The Asian jumping worm looks very similar to the earthworm, but there is one distinguishing feature - the band around its body. Asian jumping worms can be identified by the smooth, light-colored band around their body whereas other worms have more of a raised band that does not entirely circle the body and is typically a darker color.
Another dead giveaway: its jumping behavior. An Asian jumping worm will thrash around violently enough to propel, or “jump”, its body up to a foot into the air, hence the name ‘jumping worm’.
The primary concern for the Asian jumping worm is the impact they have on the environment. Due to their jumping behavior, jumping worms are constantly hungry and will completely eat the top part of the soil where leaves and other debris decay. This part of the soil is very nutritious and a home for other important life forms. This causes a change in the composition, making nutrients unavailable, and exposing organisms to the environment. With this change in the ecology comes a decline in plant ability to root and grow properly, water retention issues, and erosion.
The good news is that the Asian jumping worm will not harm humans or other animals physically. The concern of this pest is more to the environment and ecological system. This in turn can have detrimental effects on humans. It can affect the health of plant materials around them like gardens, trees, and landscape areas.
Ideally, the best way to control this pest is to prevent it from establishing itself in the area. Before starting your garden or landscape, inspect your soil, potted plants, gardening equipment, and clothing for any Asian jumping worms. You'll want to do this so that you don’t inadvertently introduce them to your yard. If you find any live jumping worms, place them into a plastic bag, seal the bag shut, and leave it in the sun for a few hours. Once the worm is dead, you can dispose of it in the trash.
According to the experts at Ehrlich, the only recommended treatment for controlling this pest is through heat known as solarization. If you have an area where you suspect Asian jumping worms to be present, heavily water the area in the late spring-early summer. Afterwards, place clear polyethylene plastic on it. This will increase the temperature in the topsoil layer and will kill the pest.
This worm should not be used for fishing or compost areas. Its popularity for fishing because of its ability to stay alive underwater for more than 20 minutes should not outweigh this pest’s potential to do damage to the ecosystem.