Research shows invasive ‘jumping worms’ threaten local plant life

State News

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — “Jumping worms” have been expanding their territories in different places in Illinois, threatening to absorb nutrients that plants need in order to grow.

According to Richard Hentschel, Horticulture Educator at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, the “jumping worms” were first identified in Illinois in 2015.

Researchers at U of I started tracking the route of these worms in 2017. Until now, they have been found and located in 37 counties. 16 other counties are suspected to have a trace of them. The invasion of these worms is spreading quickly, which often causes by gardening activities and sharing plants.

The “jumping worms” are very aggressive. They live in the top few inches of soil, leaves, or mulch and eat all the nutrients there. They eat those nutrients so quickly that plants do not have a chance to absorb any.

These worms are considered a threat to agriculture, gardens, and forests. Because of their active feeding, “jumping worms” turn soil into something that looks like coffee grounds.

Richard said since the discovery of these worms is very recent, it is difficult to provide many ways to stop the spread completely. A few things that people can do are to spot them early and separate the plants and the soil that have signs of these worms.

There are two ways to spot “jumping worms.”

“When you disturb them, they wiggle around very much more actively, compared to our native worms,” said Richard.

Another way to differ native worms from “jumping worms” is the fact that native worms have a lighter, vanilla-colored circle only on their body, but “jumping worms” have that circle all the way around.

This map shows the most recent locations where the worms have been identified:

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