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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
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Jumping Worm


Every year there seems to be a new invasive species that we need to take into consideration, and this year will not be a disappointment. The Jumping Worm is a new invasive species that you need to keep an eye out for this year. It is new to Illinois though not to the US. Although it has only been identified in three counties (Cook, DuPage, and McHenry), it poses a threat to the entire state if it is not controlled. And unlike many of the other invasive species, the Jumping Worm poses a threat to all types of habitat and agriculture.

Now we have all been taught that worms are a good thing as they provide a number of benefits to the soil. Worms are not native to Illinois, so why is this worm any different? The Jumping Worm, like all worms, is a voracious eater, but the Jumping Worm makes the other worms look like light eaters by comparison. They live in the organic layer of soil and consume organic matter at an amazing rate. They have the potential to destroy the organic layer. This has consequences on multiple levels. There are many native insects and other organisms that are dependent on the organic material (like the leaf litter in a wooded area). The Jumping Worm is removing the habitat for these insects and could have an effect on the fungal production of areas.

Though the adult worms do not survive the winters, the eggs are capable of overwintering in the soil. The worms mature in about 60 days and are able to double the population in a single growing season. In addition, the Jumping Worm can also reproduce without mating. They are easily identifiable. They are dark grey to brown across much of the body and have a light colored "milky" band that runs around the body (clitellum). Unlike most other worms, the clitellum is smooth and not raised. Their name is very apt, as they wiggle and thrash around when disturbed.

To help control and hopefully stop the spread of the Jumping Worm, keep an eye out for it in the soil. Here are other ways that it can be spread.

  • They are very popular as fish bait and are sold under a number of names including "Crazy Worms", "Alabama Jumpers", and "Snake Worms". If you are a fisherman, do not buy bait under these names and inspect all live bait to ensure you are not buying these worms.
  • For the gardeners, be sure to wash off any equipment that you are transporting. Inspect the soil of the plants that you purchase each year to ensure you do not have any Jumping Worms hiding in the soil. When possible, purchase and plant bare root plants to keep the transportation of this worm to a minimum.

If you find bait being sold under any of the alternate names or suspect that your bait is a Jumping Worm, do not use the bait. Please report the sale to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If you suspect that you have a Jumping Worm in your yard, garden, landscaping, or in a plant that you purchased, report it to Illinois Department of Agriculture (Scott Schirmer, scott.schirmer@illinois.gov or 815-787-5476) , Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Jody Shimp jody.shimp@illinois.gov or 618-435-8138), the U of I Plant Clinic (217-333-0519 or plantclinic@illinois.edu), or your local University of Illinois Extension office (you can find your local office here). If you have any questions, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu) or your local Extension office.



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