“What worm is this?” asks this reader about the brown-pink worm in the photographs below. She reports having seen “several before” in Northern Mississippi where she is located and is fairly certain that they are jumping worms or crazy snake worms.
Our reader elaborates by saying that the worm resembles either an “amynthas agrestis” or amynthas “gracilis”, both of which are types of earthworms which are also considered ‘crazy worms’. This term, ‘crazy worm’ or ‘crazy snake worm’, refers to species of earthworms that jump and writhe when disturbed, better known as jumping worms. We think our reader is correct in identifying these worms as jumping worms, as the photographed worm’s physical appearance and the way it “jumped around” when our reader touched it point toward this conclusion. The worms surface when our reader waters her plants, just like earthworms do, and she comments on their “beautiful” “iridescence”, which she managed to capture in the photographs she attached to her submission.
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Interestingly, as common as jumping worms now are in the West, they are actually native to South-East Asia, and are considered an invasive species in The United States that likely came in on imported plant pots. Unfortunately, unlike many other species of earthworms, their presence is not always a welcome sight. Although jumping worms, like all earthworms, eat organic matter in the soil, the way that they process those materials is not as helpful. This is because jumping worms will excrete their food as dense pellets that are difficult to break down and which can completely change the structure of a soil system. As a result, the plants that depend on that soil, and thereby the animals that depend on that plant (and the animals that depend on those animals, and so forth) are negatively affected by this. That said, it has been recognized that heavy infestations of any kind of earthworm can have this effect, but ultimately it seems as though jumping worms are given little credit for any good they might do, unlike the common earthworm who is hailed as a saint of the temperate ecosystem.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ web page on jumping worms says that while there is research being done on how to control jumping worm populations, there are still no clear solutions as to how to control them. They list some helpful preventative measures that might help prevent jumping worms from spreading across a given property, such as cleaning the soil off one’s car before driving home from a given location, and only purchasing compost that “was heated to appropriate temperatures and duration following protocols that reduce pathogens.” What we recommend our reader do is check her property for more worms to get an idea of how serious the infestation might be. Soil structures can survive light infestations of jumping worms with little difficulty, but it is when they get particularly heavy that it becomes a problem that needs dealing with. If our reader discovers the infestation is serious, we recommend checking out the web page linked above for further advice.
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In conclusion, the worms our reader has been finding around her plants are indeed jumping worms (AKA crazy worms or crazy snake worms). They are not directly harmful to humans or animals, being a species of the benevolent earthworm, but they can cause indirect harm to plants and animals when they heavily infest a given area. We hope that our reader is not dealing with a serious infestation and wish her the best of luck!