Latest Threat to Forests: Invasive Jumping Earthworms

It turns out earthworms are not always so great for the soil
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2022 5:25 PM CDT
Updated Jul 4, 2022 12:01 AM CDT
Latest Threat to Forests: Invasive Jumping Earthworms
This photo from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows an invasive jumping worm, bottom, next to a common nightcrawler. The white band is a characteristic.   (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via AP)

Earthworms have long been popular with gardeners and fishermen, and no doubt the slimy wigglers play an important role in many ecosystems. However, invasive worms can wreak havoc in forests, especially if they’re Asian jumping earthworms. Also known as crazy worms, snake worms, Georgia jumpers, Jersey wigglers, and sharks of the earth, per CBS News, the invasive species was originally brought from Japan to the Bronx Zoo in the 1940s to feed platypuses. Since then, they’ve spread slowly but steadily to dozens of US states, most likely hitching rides in mulch, compost, and potted plants.

Per the Guardian, the hermaphroditic worms grow to roughly eight inches, have a dark body and milky white band, and “are distinctive for their theatrical behavior,” writhing so much that they can flip themselves up to a foot off the ground. California officials say the worms are “extremely active, aggressive, and have voracious appetites,” as shown in this objectively disturbing video. They can devastate the top layer of leaves and soil on a forest floor, causing erosion and preventing native plants from taking root. Perhaps nowhere is that threat more serious than in Canada, per the Walrus. Researchers fear the invaders could transform up to half of the country’s sensitive boreal forests, not only harming native plants but also releasing excess carbon dioxide that would otherwise remained trapped in the soil.

It turns out nearly all earthworm species are invasive in Canada because most of the natives were wiped out in the last ice age. Canadian environmentalists know it’s hard to make the public care, but they hope the dramatic behavior of jumping worms can draw attention to the wider problem. The worms are hard to eradicate once they have a home. The best hope is to slow their spread through public awareness, including discouraging fishermen from dumping unused bait in the woods. Per Newsweek, jumping worms can be drawn to the surface with an irritating mustard-water mix; then they can be collected, bagged, and disposed of in the trash. (More earthworms stories.)

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