MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/5/2022) – The highly invasive jumping worm, which can damage soil and gardens, has spread to several Midwestern states, including Minnesota.
As the weather warms and people return to outdoor hobbies like gardening and fishing, Minnesotans should keep an eye out for the species, which may be hiding in compost worms or new mulch. that gardeners use, or spread when anglers unknowingly buy bait mixed with jumping worms. and not following good disposal practices.
Ryan Hueffmeier, a U of M Duluth professor and program director at the Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center, provides expert commentary on how to spot jumping worms and what steps you can take to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Some of his research on jumping worms is funded by the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center.
“Jumping worms are earthworms that look and behave a bit different from the European earthworms we grew up with. These worms live in the top six centimeters of soil and are voracious eaters of organic matter. Through their feeding and burrowing behaviors, they turn topsoil into loose, grainy soil that can be easily eroded and does not support plant life well. Due to their ability to clone themselves, a single jumping worm can create a population, making them a difficult species to manage.
To date, jumping worms have been documented from the southeastern part of Minnesota to the metropolitan area and as far north as the St. Cloud area. To learn more about where they were found, visit the EDDMapS jumping worm website.
Jumping worms move less like a worm and more like a snake. They thrash vigorously when disturbed. They have setae, or tiny hairs, that completely cover each segment, unlike European earthworms which have only eight setae around each segment. Jumping worms can lose their tails when disturbed, and the severed tail will continue to wiggle as the worms move away from danger. If you’re having trouble identifying the species based on appearance alone, take a look at your soil, which will look noticeably different if invasive jumping worms are present. The way these worms move their bodies through the soil makes them a coffee ground texture that washes out easily.
The best thing you can do about an invasive species is not to introduce it to a new place in the first place. You can reduce the risk of introducing jumping worms by finding out where the materials for your garden and landscape come from. Is this company aware of jumping worms and their potential negative environmental impacts? Visually inspect all materials you purchase before they arrive at your home. When buying or trading plants or other gardening materials, consider putting all of these things in a secondary container and waiting a week before planting. This way, you will have more time to take a good look at the material in order to spot the worms. If you do, research the characteristics of the earthworms to decipher whether they are European earthworms or invasive jumping worms. If you use live worms to fish, be sure to throw away any bait you don’t use. Once they’re introduced to an environment, it’s too late.
To learn more about jumping worms, visit the University of Minnesota’s Jumping Worms Project webpage.
Ryan Hueffmeier is a research, outreach and education specialist with active projects in forest and landscape ecology and invasive species. For 15 years he has been part of the Great Lakes Worm Watch and Jumping Worms projects. Hueffmeier is the program director of the Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center and a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he works to transfer scientific knowledge from evidence-based research to the public by creating accessible outreach programs. The Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center offers educational programs related to natural resource management practices.
About the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center
The Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center (MITPPC) was founded in 2015 by the Minnesota Legislature to conduct research on the prevention, detection, and control of terrestrial (terrestrial) invasive species. MITPPC researchers use transformative science to prevent and minimize the threats posed by invasive terrestrial plants, pathogens and pests. MITPPC is the only such research center in the nation, and the center’s work to protect the state’s grasslands, forests, wetlands, and native agricultural resources benefits all of Minnesota and beyond. Funding for MITPPC is provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Learn more at mitppc.umn.edu.
About the Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center
The Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center offers comprehensive educational programs that contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of natural resource management practices in the Boulder Lake Management Area. This provides an interpretive window to present resource management, including hydroelectric power generation and a functioning forest environment. The programming also illustrates the many social, biological and economic benefits of the forest.
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