By Paul James
I’ve been following stories about the bizarre – and extremely destructive – Asian Jumping worms for a few years, hoping that they would never make it to Oklahoma. Unfortunately, however, they have indeed been found in a few locations across the state, especially here in eastern Oklahoma. And that’s bad news. Potentially very bad news.
Because unlike the familiar European earthworm or “night crawler” (which is also imported, but beneficial to soil health) colonies of this extremely invasive worm have the potential to destroy entire ecosystems by only feeding on the top few inches of organic matter. In the process, they deplete the soil of nutrients, damage plant roots, and alter the soil’s capacity to hold water. The soil they leave behind is dry and grainy (think coffee grounds), and that causes various invertebrates in the soil to die, thereby depriving various wildlife species of the food they need to survive.
One bit of good news is that so far the Asian Jumping worms seem to be confined to area fishing lakes, so local scientists have speculated that they probably arrived here as bait imported from out of state. However, the cocoons they deposit in the soil can hitch a ride on shoes and be transported elsewhere.
When disturbed, these Asian natives thrash about violently, slither like snakes, and even jump into the air, which is why they’re also known as “crazy snake worms” and “Alabama Jumpers.” They typically don’t appear until late summer, which is one way to distinguish them from their European counterparts, which are abundant from spring through summer. They also have a smooth clitellum or collar that goes all the way around their body and is lightly colored. The European earthworm’s clitellum is raised more like a saddle, is much darker, and does not wrap around the entire body.
Currently, there are no known controls for this critter. Scientists suggest you no longer purchase worms as bait, or for vermiculture or composting (especially from online sources), to avoid the risk of introducing this nasty pest.
I’ll keep following the latest developments and keep you posted periodically. In the meantime, if you think you have Asian Jumping worms in your garden, please let me know. I’ll pass the information on to researchers at OSU.