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Jumping worms are real thing

Q: What is the deal with these so-called jumping worms? Are they a real thing?

• Sam from Boardman

A: Yes, they are a real thing. There have been so many invasive organisms with the potential for decimating effects to our habitats, and yet here comes another one.

Actually the jumping worm (Amynthas spp.) has been around since the 1900s, an invader from Asia, but it is now in Ohio, specifically central Ohio as of right now. They can be called jumping worm, snake worms, Alabama jumpers and crazy worms.

They resemble our non-native earthworms. There are only a few native worms in Ohio, and many of these are scarce, as they are pushed out of habitat by competing nonnative worms.

Comparing each other, the earthworm is reddish brown with a saddle shaped tan clitellum (the wide band) about a third of the way back from the head. The jumping worm is brown / gray, and its clitellum is creamy white all the way around the body.

The activity of each is distinctive. The earthworm will slide away when provoked, but the jumping worm flails about whipping with snakelike contortions. They even have been known to lose their tails in order to get away.

Where earthworms burrow down into the soil, tunneling and aerating soil, leaving nutritious castings (feces) that enrich soil profile, the jumping worms burrow only 2 to 4 inches in soil and eat all organic matter and deposit coffee ground-looking feces that are of no nutritive value.

They strip soil, so plants cannot survive. The soil is so aerated that it erodes, bakes in the sun, and decimates any value. They have even been known to eat roots of plants and kill them.

Earthworms are hermaphroditic, meaning they are each male and female. When they mate, they place their clitellum together to exchange reproductive matter, then back out of the casing surrounding this fertilized matter, thus making a cocoon. These hatch into young. My husband and I witnessed this mating process of our earthworms just three weeks ago — interesting science.

Jumping worms are parthenogenic, meaning they are asexual and therefore make their young themselves. They cannot survive the winters of Ohio, but the cocoons can and hatch in late June to early July. The cocoons are about the size of a pencil eraser. There can be two hatchings per summer.

Be aware of the possibility of this worm being in our area. As a gardener, do your part to:

l Learn to identify these worms and educate other gardeners;

l Watch for signs of the worms — unusual, dark castings on top of soil / mulch;

l Examine plants you share for the worms, castings or cocoons;

l Report a sighting of these worms, go to https://go.osu.edu/asianjumpingworms;

l Do not share plants if you have found these worms (they have not been confirmed here, yet).

To learn more about these worms, go to http://go.osu.edu/jumpingworm.

Hughes is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions to the plant clinic. Live clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays. Or visit go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic. go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic.

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