New York State IPM Program

The Craziest of Worms

They sound kind of cute, right? “Crazy worms” that could actually amuse you? Gyrating in a box of soil, say, sort of like disco dancers? (I’m showing my age here.)

Oh. And trust me; I’m not going off topic here: for many kinds of fish, fishing season started a few days ago. A date that synced, purely by chance, with April Fools Day. (We’ll leave Easter Sunday out of the equation.)

What’s the connection? The economic impact of fresh-water fishing for New York is about $2.26 billion. Watch them in action and crazy worms (aka jumping worms) would seem the ideal bait worm. But don’t even think about it. Illegally sold as bait in some places, this thing has already spread way too far. To have equipped yourself for April First with these critters would have been foolery, pure and simple.

Yet surely—aren’t earthworms good for composting; for your garden and lawn? Won’t they help aerate the soil? Feed the soil?

Alas, these worms make our everyday night crawlers (a mixed blessing in many ecologist’s books) look wondrously benign. Because unlike some other worms that help build soil, crazy worms destroy it, devouring everything that makes soil. Nor do they snub the roots of (for instance) your veggies, your posies, and yes, your lawn—these roots are solid fare for crazy worms. (Farmers aren’t happy campers either.)

And get a load of the crazy worms’ craziest attribute: their remarkable birthing abilities. Most of your standard-issue night crawlers are hermaphrodites—they possess both males and female organs—but at least they must date another of the same kind if they’re going to make babies. Crazy worms? All are female. No need for dates or mates. And their reproduction rate far exceeds that of other worms.

What about our cold winters? They encase their eggs in cocoons. And while crazy worms don’t survive severe northern winters, their cocoons do. All it takes is one to begin an infestation. And if that doesn’t give you pause….

BTW, our forests are as threatened as our fields. Where infestations are high, these worms strip all organic matter from the forest floor, exposing tree roots. Gone is the soil layer that seedlings and wildflowers rely on. When soil is stripped of organics it becomes clumpy, granular, and prone to compaction and erosion. Bad news all around.

Oh—and they’re accomplished hitch-hikers. You might find them in, say, that potted plant you bought from your local big box store. You could also find them in bagged mulch and compost. You might even find their cocoons—small and dark, resembling a clump of soil, on the soles of your boots.

Found some? Your next step: call your county’s Cooperative Extension office or regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. They need to know. For heaven’s sake, don’t give seedlings or plants from infested soil to your neighbor down the street or a plant exchange in your town. And if you’re an angler? Take the high road. Don’t buy crazy worms from out-of-state suppliers.

Resources: As you look through these resources, note the crazy worm’s other name: jumping worms.

Cornell Master Naturalist Program Invasive Species Series: Jumping Worms

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Horticulture Program: Crazy Worms in Maine

Iowa State University Horticulture & Home Pest News: Asian Jumping Worms

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Research Update: Jumping Worms and Sleeping Cocoons

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Magazine: Jumping Worms

Author: Mary M. Woodsen

Pests and pesticides — both can cause harm. How can we protect ourselves the least-toxic way? IPM is the sound, sensible, science-based approach that works wherever you do. The New York State Integrated Pest Management Program develops and offers tested tactics for pests new and old, whether on farms, offices, orchards, schools, parks, vineyards, more.... Wherever you find pests, you find IPM.

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