The harm caused by invasive jumping worms in Kentucky

Anita Durairaj

Jumping worms have caused so much havoc that they have been called "crazy worms" by an article in the Atlantic.

Jumping worms (Genus Amynthas) are an invasive species. They are "earthworms on steroids." Originally, they were native to eastern Asia but now they are found in a number of eastern, southeastern, and midwestern states in the U.S.

The worms became known as jumping worms because of their tendency to writhe violently when disturbed. They move across the ground making snake-like movements and can even spring into the air or snap their bodies.

While they are similar in appearance to earthworms, they have different coloring and their clitellum (collar-like ring) is also different from regular earthworms.

In general, earthworms are not native to North America. They only started showing up on the continent after the Ice Age. For the most part, earthworms are beneficial but they have been known to alter the environment of the soil and turn it into a completely different habitat to suit their needs.

Jumping worms can cause even more drastic and dynamic changes than the common European earthworm. They can cause the disturbance of forest ecosystems, reduce plant growth, and negatively alter the soil environment.

In 2014, jumping worms were reported in Kentucky as a threat to landscape and golf course turfs. The worms damaged golf courses and putting greens. The worms were especially aggressive in invading new habitats and depleting the soil of nutrients.

The worms are found along the Ohio River banks and smaller rivers and they might have been used as fish bait. It is thought that they invaded the golf courses in Kentucky when the courses were renovated with sand from the Ohio River.

The most recent invasion of jumping worms in Kentucky was reported in 2021.

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