In the world of gardening, an unexpected adversary has surfaced, casting a dark veil over our cherished green spaces. A recent TikTok video has brought this issue to the forefront, introducing many to the Asian jumping worm.
But what exactly is it about this particular worm that has the gardening aficionados so concerned?
Viral Tiktok Alert: a Gardener’S Unexpected Warning
A recent video by @organicgardeningco on TikTok has unexpectedly become the talk of the gardening community. With the worm wriggling in their hand, the user sends out a clear message: “If you see [these], get rid of them.”
The video, amassing millions of views, has left viewers both intrigued and alarmed. But what makes this worm so different from the others we often find in our gardens?
A Historical Perspective on the Asian Jumping Worm
While the Northeast today is home to a myriad of earthworm species, not all are native. The Asian jumping worm, a non-native species, has been making its presence felt since the late 19th century.
These worms, originally from East Asia, have rapidly spread across various parts of the U.S., including the Southeast, Eastern Seaboard, mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and even some Northwestern states.
Interestingly, these Asian invaders are now displacing the once-common European nightcrawlers. There are at least three distinct species of Asian jumping worms: Amynthas agrestis, Amynthas tokioensis, and Metophire hilgendorfi.
Why the Alarm Bells?
The Asian jumping worm’s appetite is insatiable. They consume organic matter at a pace that’s alarmingly faster than their European counterparts. This rapid consumption can strip forests of the essential layer needed for the growth of seedlings and wildflowers.
Their growth rate is twice as fast as other worms, and they reproduce at an astonishing rate, leading to dense infestations.
Such infestations can have cascading effects on the ecosystem. Native plants, soil invertebrates, salamanders, birds, and other animals might see a decline in their numbers. Moreover, these worms can severely damage plant roots in nurseries, gardens, forests, and turf.
Their activity can also promote the spread of invasive plant species by churning up the soil.
Identifying: European Nightcrawlers Vs. Asian Jumping Worms
One of the most distinct signs of an infestation is the presence of a uniform, granular soil, reminiscent of coffee grounds. This is a result of the worm castings. These worms, which can grow up to 6 inches, are far more active than the European nightcrawlers.
They can be easily spotted on the soil surface and within the leaf litter.
A key identifying feature of the Asian jumping worm is the clitellum, a band around their body. Unlike the raised, reddish-brown band on European nightcrawlers, the Asian jumping worm’s clitellum is milky white to light gray, flush with the body, and gives the worm a metallic sheen.
Combatting the Invasion
While the Asian jumping worm poses a significant threat, there are measures that can be taken to control their spread:
- Awareness: Refrain from using jumping worms for bait, vermicomposting, or gardening.
- Heat Treatment: Opt for mulch or compost that has undergone heat treatment at 130°F for a minimum of three days to eliminate cocoons.
- Mustard Pour Technique: A mixture of water and ground yellow mustard seed can be poured into the soil to drive worms to the surface for removal.
- Solarization: Covering moistened soil with transparent polyethylene during late spring or summer can destroy cocoons when the soil temperature exceeds 104°F for a few days.
- Plant Movement: Exercise caution when sharing or moving plants. Ensure they are free from worms and always be aware of their origin.
- Physical Removal: Handpick worms, bag them, and either throw them in the trash or expose them to sunlight for at least 10 minutes before disposal.
- Research Initiatives: Current studies are exploring the potential of abrasive materials like biochar and diatomaceous earth in combating these worms.
- Reporting: Encountering jumping worms should be reported at www.nyimapinvasives.org. It’s worth noting that these worms are prohibited by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.