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

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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.

The jumping worms have been found in several counties in Oklahoma. 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.

Scott Loss, associate professor with Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, said:

While no systematic surveys have been done, I have found them around the OSU campus in Stillwater, as well as a few spots in eastern Oklahoma. Although not currently a significant concern in the state, these aren’t your regular earthworms. They multiply more rapidly than other species, but the real difference is they can devour organic material quickly, which can alter the soil structure and chemistry of land. Their movement also differs in that they move and thrash around like a snake.

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.

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