“Dear Northern Cousin, How’s life in the beautiful Driftless Region? I hope spring is beginning to show her face. Down here human folks are already tilling up our tunnels; gardening season has begun.
“I sure hope you can avoid the ruckus we had here last year! Some new worms moved into the neighborhood. Strange, kinda twitchy folks – jerking this way, hoppin’ that way. Made me nervous! And EAT! They plowed through the leaf litter like there was no tomorrow. Strange looking too! Their clitellum* is milky white or light gray, and it’s smooth and completely encircles their bodies. Weird! Anyway, I was just wondering if you’d seen any of these folks up your way. Well, gotta go. Happy tunnelin’, Loamy Louie.”
Just as they finished reading, the county extension agent’s car pulled in. The friendly agent handed Farmer Jones a pamphlet and told him about the very worm described in Louie’s letter. What a coincidence!
She said this invasive new worm species from Southeast Asia had inadvertently been transported to the southern U.S. People call them “jumping worms” or “Alabama Jumpers” because they writhe violently or even jump when disturbed. And like any invasive species, they can have a huge impact on the local ecology.
Devouring the organic matter on the forest floor, they leave behind a very loose, nutrient-poor soil that inhibits the growth of new seedling, native plants, and fungi. Any one worm can reproduce on its own without a mate, so they can spread fast wreaking environmental havoc as they go.
She told Jones that jumping worms have been found in Wisconsin too. To prevent accidently spreading the tiny cocoons be careful not to move debris or dirty tools to another area. When shopping, carefully inspect plants and gardening materials and only buy sterilized or properly heat-treated compost.
“I sure hope Jones and the other humans follow her directions,” Ethel sighed. “Heaven knows we need a stable eco-system here on the only home we’ll ever know, where we’re forever…Earthbound.”
*clitellum - the band around the worm’s body