Invasive jumping worms spreading in Minnesota’s forests

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Jumping worms, which are native to many parts of Asia, arrived in the United States in the 1920s as fishing bait and as hitchhikers on imported plants and soils. Jumping worms were first found in Loring Park in Minneapolis in 2006 and have upended local gardens and lawns for several years turning rich soil into small crumbles ultimately depleting nutrients.

The worms have since infested several old-growth forests and state and regional parks scattered throughout the state. Jumping worms live in the leaf litter and the top few inches of soil on the forest floor. They contribute to major forest ecosystem disturbance by negatively impacting soil structure and reducing plant growth.

Lee Frelich, director of the center for forest ecology at the University of Minnesota, said

There are invasive species like the emerald ash borer that might wipe out one or maybe a handful of species of trees. Here you have an invader that can destroy the soil. So it's a whole different category of invasive species that can alter the ecosystem at its most fundamental.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has since cautioned the general public to be on the lookout for the jumping worms.

We need gardeners and anglers to be vigilant and to contact the DNR when they think they’ve found jumping worms. The DNR warns people not to buy worms advertised as jumping worms, “snake worms,” “Alabama jumpers” or “crazy worms” for any purpose. Unwanted bait should be thrown in the trash. Gardeners should inspect mulch or plants they purchase for worms.

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