The highly invasive jumping worm, a genus introduced from eastern Asia, now writhes within the topsoil of more than a dozen states in the United States. After jumping worms feed their insatiable appetites, they leave behind loose, granular soil the texture of coffee grounds. This altered soil can no longer retain moisture, lacks nutrients and quickly erodes, jeopardizing gardens and forest ecosystems.

The jumping worm resembles the more common “nightcrawler”, but is smaller, browner in color, and has a very visible white ring near it’s head. As per its name, they thrash around when touched and can “jump” about an inch off the ground.

The jumping worm’s ability to reproduce without mating and lay eggs that resemble the soil are a few qualities that make the worm extremely invasive. As the worm rapidly depletes topsoil of all nutrients, it outcompetes native fungi species and other non-native worm species. As a result, native plants may have a harder time growing. As a result of the loss of nutrients, both native plants and trees have a harder time growing because they need that layer in order to germinate and survive.

While the adult worms cannot survive very cold winters, their egg casings do. And there are no known methods to control the spread or rid them from already infested forests. 

Researchers suggest that in areas with residential gardens, homeowners should remove any adult worms they find, place them in a bag in the sun, and then throw them away in the trash. People should NOT use them for fish bait, in gardening, or in composts.

Right now, researchers are looking into the long-term affects that infected forests will have and plan to connect with gardeners and landscape professionals so they can share observations and practices for controlling them.

-Smithsonian Magazine