Imagine turning over your compost and finding large, dark-colored worms thrashing about, moving quickly, and even flipping over when disturbed. That’s what happened to an alert WN Garden Club and Wild and Native member who noticed these strange creatures in her compost pile this summer. She identified them and sent out word that the non-native, invasive Jumping or Crazy Worm was here in West Newbury.
Why Be Concerned?
Although most worms found in our forests and compost piles are non-native, such as the European nightcrawler, the Jumping Worm, from Southeast Asia is particularly troublesome. It eats large amounts of organic matter thus denying our forests of the rich nutrients needed for wildflower and tree seedling growth. Jumping worms can reproduce and grow quickly, thus occurring in soils at higher densities than other worms. In forests or home gardens large numbers of these worms can wreak havoc on plant roots. These invasive Jumping Worms are as bad as the Emerald Ash Borer and Gypsy Moths, though hidden from view, destroying organic soil as they spread.
How Do I Know if I Have Jumping Worms?
One sign of a worm invasion is to look at your garden soil. If it looks and feels like coffee grounds or granular sugar, (these are worm feces) by removing soil just under the surface you may find these six-inch long worms fitfully wiggling and moving about. Also look for them on the soil surface, in leaf litter, as well as your compost pile. These worms do not go deep into the soil and much prefer to stay close to the surface.
Look for a Milk-Colored Neck Band
Another identifying characteristic is the band that wraps around the worms body. The band known as the clitellum (this is where cocoons are produced to hold the worm’s eggs) is whitish- colored in the Jumping Worm. It is close to the worm's head and encircles the body.
Know Their Lifecycle
With our cold Northeast winters, the adult Jumping Worm dies, but it has already left behind poppy-seed-sized cocoons filled with eggs that will overwinter and hatch the following spring. The immature worms are very small in spring and are not usually noticed until August into September when they are larger and more abundant.
Stop the Spread
Because cocoons and immature worms are so tiny, they can easily get distributed into new areas when plants are potted in spring with infested garden soil or they can arrive in new compost or mulch. It’s important to start checking your soil for these most unwelcome worms Now while they are larger in August and September.
Cornell University has a great website on Becoming Worm-Smart, further identification information and what to do should you too find Jumping Worms. http://ccetompkins.org/resources/jumping-worm-fact-sheet
Please send us an email at email@example.com if you find them in a West Newbury garden or woodland. Be sure to take and send a photo!