‘Jumping worms’ invaded Illinois. They’re not just creepy — they’re a threat

Jumping worms or ‘crazy worms’ have invaded Illinois and pose a great threat to plant life, experts say.
Jumping worms or ‘crazy worms’ have invaded Illinois and pose a great threat to plant life, experts say. Screengrab: Kinisol Twitter

Jumping worms may sound like the stuff of nightmares, and they are — for your plants, experts say.

Considered an invasive species, jumping worms — also known as “crazy worms” and “Alabama jumpers”— made their way into Illinois in 2015, researchers at the University of Illinois say. Four years later, they’re everywhere.

“We consider anywhere in the Chicago area covered,” forester Chris Evans said, according to the Chicago Tribune. He also says they’ve spread all across the state.

The worms, native to Asia, tend to measure between four and eight inches long and earn their name from the way they thrash about when disturbed, according to researchers.

As if that weren’t enough, they’re also very, very hungry, which makes them dangerous to plant life and soil.

Jumping worms like to stay in top soil, leaf litter and surface debris, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Described as ravenous, the worms feed on the organic layer of soil that plants need to survive.

“Plants need that layer in order germinate and trees need it in order to survive,” University of Wisconsin researcher Brad Herrick said, according to the Tribune.

The worms excrete “grainy-looking, hard little pellets” that have a negative effect on the “texture and composition of soil,” making it difficult for even native plants to grow, according to the department of natural resources.

Because the soil becomes looser and more granular, the soil cannot hold water, the Tribune reported.

Jumping worms are unique from other earthworms in that they reproduce without a mate, researchers say. Instead, they “self-fertilize,” producing small, hardened, resilient cocoons that resemble dirt, making them difficult to detect and eradicate, the department of natural resources says.

Experts fear what it could mean for plant life in infested areas.

“One of the big concerns is: what can they do to a mature, healthy forest?” Herrick said, according to the Tribune.

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Dawson covers goings-on across the central region, from breaking to bizarre. She is an MSt candidate at the University of Cambridge and lives in Kansas City.