Jumping worm: It is difficult to determine the next invasive garden danger

Scientists say the jumpworm has been around in North America since the 19th century but was only recently reported as a problem.

Just when you think you’ve become accustomed to an infestation of the spotted lantern fly, another threat to the ecosystem also comes in: the Asian jump worm.

Allow me to introduce to you Amynthas agrestisalso known as “Alabama jumper”, “Jersey Wrestler” And the impudent but subtle “crazy worm”. Unlike the various garden earthworms, these scaly, invasive rats are predatory consumers of humus, the rich, organic top layer of soil made up of dead and decaying small animals, insects, and leaf litter in places like forests and your plant and animal nurseries. garden.

Plants, fungi, and other soil life cannot survive without humus, Sarah Farmer of the US Forest Service wrote in The USDA Southern Research Center blog post was published in May.

Low humus may also threaten birds and other wildlife that depend on soil-dwelling insects for food.

The omnivorous invertebrates, which live in eastern and central Asia, are believed to have been introduced to the United States in the late 19th century, most likely as potted roamers. But its existence was largely unnoticed — or perhaps unreported — until the past decade, when environmental scientists called it problematic, according to Dr. Timothy Mackay, professor of biology and environmental studies at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

Since then, the presence of the worms has been confirmed in 35 states across the country.

Although their annual life cycle ends in the winter, the cocoons of Asian jumping worms live to produce a new generation in the spring. Its tiny eggs are nearly impossible to notice in soil or mulch, but the adult worms, which are 3 to 8 inches long, are easy to spot near the soil surface and can often be seen moving under mulch or leaf litter.

When the worms devour their way through the soil, they leave two things behind: cocoons and castings. The cocoons are small and soil-colored, so they are easy to miss. However, castings, or faeces, have a granular, ground texture that will alert you to their presence.

Glossy worms can be gray or brown, with a smooth cream or white collar that wraps completely around part of their body. When touched, they swipe from side to side, jump, and possibly slide back and forth like a snake. Mackay said that this behavior, along with its ability to reproduce quickly without a mate, gives it an advantage over predators.

“Robbins and other birds, shrews, lace snakes, and amphibians such as frogs may not be able to effectively suppress their populations,” he said.

Mackay, whose research focuses on understanding how worms invade healthy forests, and their impact on forest biodiversity, warns that “gardeners should do what they can to avoid the spread of jump worms to new areas.” Because worms typically move into forests from nearby gardens, he said, controlling home and community gardens is necessary to slow their invasion of natural habitats.

So during this season of plant division and exchange, gardeners must be vigilant. Keep an eye out for worm castings, a telltale sign of their presence. Check the soil attached to the roots of the plants and in the ground around them. Additionally, Mackay advises against dumping infected garden waste into nearby woods, and only subscribe to plants that have been repotted after cleaning their roots from clinging soil.

Unfortunately, no good control measures are available for established populations of jumping worms. But Mackay said picking them by hand and dumping them in containers of vinegar will reduce their numbers. He knows one gardener in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, who removed 51,000 worms this way in 2021.

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