They may look like normal earthworms, but these so-called “crazy worms” can writhe, jump and even shed their tails to escape danger.
Now, scientists have discovered that these worms have spread to at least 15 states across the U.S.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, these worms of the genus Amynthas — also known as snake worms, Asian jumping worms and Alabama jumpers, — are highly invasive. They first came to North America in the 19th century on ships carrying plants and dirt. Since then, they have spread like a virus. They have been seen in at least 15 states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
They look like common earthworms, but they are smaller and brownish in color. But they are not nearly as innocent as the common earthworm. Adult crazy worms reproduce quickly and without mates. They law clutches of eggs the same color as the soil. Once they hatch, the worms quickly devour the nutrients in the topsoil around them, leaving behind a loose, nutrient-depleted soil.
Brad Herrick, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told PBS Wisconsin that “this soil erodes quickly, leaving little sustenance for native plants, or competing species of worms and fungi.”
“One thing that we’ve noticed … is that these earthworms, not only do they change the soil structure and the nutrient dynamics in the soil, but they also somehow or another displace other species of earthworms that are already there,” Herrick said.
Right now, it is unclear how exactly the worms spread across the country. According to an article in The Atlantic, scientists believe the worms could be hitchhiking from across state borders in imported plants, on the treads of truck tires, by clinging to landscaping equipment or even sailing down waterways (their cocoons can travel surprisingly far in water).
Researchers are still investigating the long-term effects of these highly invasive worms on North America’s forests. However, in the short-term, researchers know that the worms are bad news for the soil and the native worms that live there.
In the meantime, there’s no good way to control the spread in forests that they have already invaded. However, if you ever spot one of these crazy worms in your garden, simply place them in a bag, leave them in the sun for 10 minutes, and then throw them away. That is, if you can manage to keep them from jumping out of your hand.