Jumping Worms & Invasive Species Awareness

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

Master Gardeners have been talking about the importance of controlling invasive species for years. Purple Loosestrife, Giant Hogweed, Buckthorn, Garlic Mustard and Dog-strangling Vine are on a long list of Invasive Plant Species.

You can check the list out at www.invasivespeciescentre.ca  or www.invadingspecies.com

But there are more than just invasive plants. There are also invasive insects like Spongy Moths and Emerald Ash Borer. There are invasive fish and invertebrates like Zebra Mussels and Asian Carp. We have invasive pathogens like Dutch Elm disease (Dutch Ed: “Identified by the Dutch, not CAUSED by the Dutch”). And just recently, we have begun to hear about Wild Pigs and Jumping Worms.

I took part in a webinar presented by the Royal Botanical Gardens on Jumping Worms (JWs) earlier this month. Two speakers, Brook Schryer from the OFAH who works with the Invading Species Awareness Program and Dr. Michael McTavish with the Smith Forest Health, University of Toronto, spoke about the need to be aware of jumping worm sightings in Ontario. They gave information about Eddmaps.org where interested citizens can share their own findings. You can find a recording of this event at https://www.youtube.com/user/royalbotanicalgarden

Now is a good time to find JWs as they are adults at this time of year and can be better identified.

Jumping Worms are an invasive species of Asian worm that are slowly moving their way from the United States. They are voracious eaters and can consume much of the compost, topsoil and debris that lays on forest floors. They leave behind worms castings that are loose and crumbly similar in appearance to coffee grounds. They are often found in wet and shady spots and castings are spread evenly rather than in clumping piles. The castings can be a thin layer or can be 10 cm deep. It will appear as though the ground has been previously dug as the soil will be loose. Jumping worms are distinguished by their thrashing behaviour when moved or picked up. They have also been known to amputate their tails as a method of evasion from predators. There are usually many worms found together close to the soil surface. The worm body is smoother than our earthworm and tends to be more gray than red. The milking band or clitellum goes all the way around their body. Although the worm dies in the cold winter months, their cocoons survive, becoming juvenile worms in May and June and adults in July.

Left on their own, these worms can spread up to 10 meters per year. However, without human help, the spread could happen much quicker.

Research in Canada is happening, but we should all be aware of the dangers of this invasive species, and take precautions.  We just need to think of the days before Phragmites showed up in every wetland and ditch in our area. Awareness and education are important.

Check out the EDDmaps.org site where you can see where actually sightings of invasives have been recorded. The two presenters encouraged us to go out and search for signs of the Jumping Worm and report it to the EDDmaps, whether a positive sighting or a negative one. You can also call the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711 if you have a concern.

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