Maybe you went walking in the woods in warm weather and a strange creature slithered underfoot or across your path. Congratulations: You’ve seen a jumping worm. These slimy, fast-moving, and sinuous creatures are unlike any worm you’ve ever seen, and their presence indicates diminished soil quality, erosion, and stress for native habitat.
“Jumping worms” describes three similar invasive species of worm whose populations have exploded in recent years in 37 U.S. States, including in Maryland. The Maryland Invasive Species Council published an excellent overview in 2019, with photos to help identify them, and the depleted soil they leave in their wake (mdinvasives.org/iotm/nov-2019). In a nutshell, here’s how to spot them:
Good news: Adult worms die off after a few hard freezes. Bad news: warmer winters and weather-hardy cocoons the size of poppy seeds means a big incursion each spring. So stay on the path when in the woods, and clean your shoe soles and other items in contact with the earth before setting foot on any other ground.
Encourage beneficial plants and wildlife in your garden to help keep soil healthy, such as native nimblewill grass (which is abundant already in our lawns), native asters, white snakeroot, Virginia creeper, and more. Local wildlife might also become your ally: salamanders, turtles, skunks, moles, and chipmunks have all been seen consuming these worms (results vary).
Careful what soil you bring home. Do not purchase loose soil or compost unless you know the source has heat-treated it. Even so, solarize it carefully under a tarp or in plastic bags at 104°F for three or more days before laying down in the garden. It is best to use bagged mulch and compost that has been heat-treated or sat in the sun for some time.
Be a thoughtful plant buyer and swapper. Inspect the soil of potted plants from garden centers, or purchase only bare-root plants or seeds. If swapping plants with neighbors, ask for bare-root, stem cuttings, or seeds.
Pesticides won’t work against jumping worms, but some fertilizers, alfalfa pellets, and soap (good old Irish Spring) seem to reduce their presence. Anything you put in your soil will also harm beneficial insects, however, so be strategic and sparing.
Use the EddMaps system (www.eddmaps.org/report, under wildlife, not insects) to report jumping worms where you see them, and tell your friends about them, too.
See more resources from the University of Maryland Extension Service: extension.umd.edu/resource/invasive-jumping-worms.
This podcast includes valuable previews of the eradication methods being tested now: www.thomaschristophergardens.com/podcasts/meeting-the-threat-of-asian-jumping-worms.
[Schamess is a writer and naturalist-in-training with the Maryland Master Naturalist Program and recently completed her certification as a Montgomery County Weed Warrior. She lives on Loxford Terrace with her husband, son, and three extremely thoughtful cats.] ■
© 2021 NFCCA [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn202112d.html]