Be On The Lookout For…
No, they haven’t been spotted in the Bog or its uplands, but Jumping Worms, a.k.a. “crazy worms,” “snake worms,” and “Alabama jumpers”, are knocking on the door—they are established in Wisconsin, and the full extent of their range is not known.
Originally from Southeast Asia, the jumping worm was first found in the southern Appalachians in 1993. It was spotted in the UW-Madison Arboretum in 2013, another in a long line of non-native species to make themselves at home here in God’s Country. Since then, multiple infestations have been reported in five Wisconsin counties (including the band from Milwaukee to Dane county), and isolated populations are recorded in about a dozen more.
They probably arrived in the root balls of trees or in shipments of garden plants. They are spread by community mulching programs, horticultural/nursery practices, and plant sales. In addition, a quick internet search turns up multiple sites where you can buy jumping worms for composting or bait (it is illegal to sell, introduce, transport, possess or propagate them in Wisconsin).
All of Wisconsin’s earthworms are foreigners, and while they may help aerate lawns and gardens, they devastate the forest floor. Earthworms disturb the incredibly important, rich nursery that is produced by the decaying mulch below the trees, making it less friendly to seedlings, wildflowers, and a huge number of animals, large and small. Jumping worms turn this fertile layer into material that resembles coffee grounds and that doesn’t hold moisture.
Jumping worms, Amynthas agrestis, emerge early in spring and aggressively out-compete (and even eliminate) other worm species. They leave cocoons full of eggs in the soil—eggs that are able to survive our increasingly mild winters.
Earthworm eradication is very difficult, but we can contain them or minimize the spread.
See pictures and learn more about them at the Wisconsin Natural Resource Magazine, and the Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, and report any suspected jumping worms to the DNR.
And yes—their names come from their habits of thrashing around on the ground and jumping into the air.
After a stop and start May, things are bursting. Go outside—look at bugs.