Invasive snake-like ‘jumping worms’ are spreading in Pennsylvania

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Jumping worms, which are native to Japan and Korea, arrived in the United States in the 1920s as fishing bait and as hitchhikers on imported plants and soils. Jumping worms first appeared in the Midwest in 2013 and have upended local gardens and lawns for several years turning rich soil into small crumbles ultimately depleting nutrients.

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.

Nancy Knauss, the statewide master gardener coordinator for Penn State Extension, first discovered jumping worms in her yard in Pittsburgh seven years back. She said:

They just writhe around and jump and I’m thinking, ‘there’s so many of them, these are different. The jumping worms actually degrade the soil. Your soil texture will change. It’s very granular, and people often compare it to coffee grounds.

Currently, there is no known prevention to jumping worms, however, an organic fertilizer used by golf course managers has been effective in eliminating jumping worms. The fertilizer made from tea seed meal irritates and eventually kills these worms when applied to the soil.

Several county conservation districts have cautioned the general public to be on the lookout for the jumping worms.

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