ST. LOUIS – Illinois and Missouri are two of 34 states with invasive jumping worms.
The closest place to St. Louis that they have been detected is in Madison County, Illinois.
The worms are native to East Asia and are a glossy gray or brown with a white band, and they thrash around and leap into the air.
Missouri Department of Conservation spokesperson Dan Zarlenga explained that this species of worm was first introduced for anglers. He said reports of jumping worms in the state have mainly come from northern Missouri.
“They are a bit more of a problem elsewhere in the country and with the mobility and everything that we have nowadays and all of the trading and commerce and all of that, it’s something that we have to be on the lookout as something that could possibly get worse in the future,” Zarlenga said.
These worms are good for aerating the soil, but they consume a lot of organic matter making it harder for the soil to hold water. They also reproduce a lot faster than worms that are native to Missouri. Zarlenga said they become sexually mature in about 60 days after hatching. Worms can also reproduce on their own.
Jumping worms are drier than common worms. They could also have an iridescent sheen to them, and darker on the top and lighter on the bottom. Missouri’s native worms and jumping worms both have a clitellum which is like a collar behind their head. The native worms’ clitellum is thick and stands out while jumping worms’ clitellum is smooth, the same size as the body, and whiter than the body. The jumping worms’ movement pattern is also a distinction. They have a snake-like movement.
Jumping worms’ tails separate from their bodies when caught, so the best way to get rid of them is to seal them in a plastic bag, leave them in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes and then dispose of them in the trash. Zarlenga said people should not put them back into the soil if they’re dead.
There’s also mild concern the invasive species will end up in plants sold in nurseries which will then go into home gardens and local parks. Zarlenga said they can also spread through community compost piles and dumping bait. Anglers should dump their bait somewhere that will end up in a landfill. It is also a good idea to sterilize gardening tools after use with soap and water or a cleaning product.
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