Destructive jumping worms spotted throughout Virginia

If you spot one of these worms, you’re asked to report them to a Virginia Cooperative Extension office

BLACKSBURG, Va. – New jumpy creatures have made their way into Virginia, and this time, gardeners shouldn’t be happy to see them in their flowerbeds.

On Thursday, the Virginia Cooperative Extension asked Virginia residents to watch out for the invasive jumping worm, according to a Virginia Farm Bureau release.

The Virginia Tech Department of Entomology reported that this type of worm is becoming widespread across the state of Virginia, and since 2019, they’ve been spotted in multiple different areas, including Bedford County, Montgomery County, and Lynchburg.

“Mainly we hope that people are aware of these invasive worms and try their best to not spread them through potted plants or soil,” said Theresa Dellinger, Virginia Tech insect identification lab diagnostician.

The release said that these worms can range in color from red to brownish-purple, identifiable by a smooth, milky-colored band that goes around the worm’s entire body, and they are often recognized by their erratic jumping and thrashing behavior when they’re handled or disturbed.

The worms are also known as Alabama jumpers, crazy worms, Jersey wriggles, and snake worms, and according to the release, they can measure anywhere from three to six inches long, and sometimes are glossy and iridescent, but they’re not slimy to the touch.

Many gardeners know that some worms are a good sign, but these wigglers are quite the exception.

Jumping worms feed on leaf litter and mulch on the surface, which removes an important layer of the soil and changes the soil structure underneath, the release said, leaving it uniformly dry and with an appearance similar to coffee grounds.

Not only that, but such leaf litter consumption can remove nutrients that plants in your garden need, and it changes the moisture level of the underlying soil, which increases the potential for erosion over time, according to the release.

Now that these wiggly creatures are coming in and eating your leaf litter, the release said that other animals that live and feed on the same substances and topsoil in your garden could be impacted, too.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension said that there are a few things you can do to help with the spread of invasive wigglers that come into your garden:

  • Be aware when sharing plans that may contain jumping worms,
  • Avoid using organic mulch or soil from outside sources unless it’s been heat-treated,
  • Thoroughly clean items with soil on them.

So you might be wondering how these destructive worms have had the chance to make their way across the state, and it seems that fishermen could be partially to blame, according to Dellinger.

“It’s almost certain that some of these worms have been spread by people using them for fish bait too,” Dellinger noted. “And people buying worms online for composting should be aware that their purchase may actually contain a mix of worms, including jumping worms.”

If you buy worms for fishing bait, the release said you should never release them into the wild.

To read more about jumping worms, you can visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website, and if you see a jumping worm, take an up-close, clear photo or a video and report the finding to your local Extension office.

About the Author

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.

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