Jumping worms, AKA crazy worms, jumpers or snake worms, are invasive earthworms recently found in Vermont. Currently there are three species of jumping worms introduced from Asia that appear to threaten northeastern hardwood forests: Amynthas agrestis, Amynthas tokioensis and Metaphire hilgendorfi. Jumping worms get their name from their behavior. When handled, they violently thrash, spring into the air and can even shed their tails to escape. In the forests of North America, these voracious feeders eat the organic layer on the surface of the forest floor, which hampers the growth of tree seedlings and many understory plants.
Vermont was completely covered by glacial ice about 12,000 years ago, which removed any native earthworms which may have evolved with these forests. Today, earthworms found in the Northeast are mainly exotic species. Many were introduced in the 18th and 19th centuries via European settlers and soil and horticultural materials transported from Europe and Asia. New species are continuing to be introduced and spread across the landscape through fishing bait, compost and the horticulture industry.
These introduced earthworms pose an ecosystem health threat to Vermont forests. They consume the organic top (duff) layers of soil, which causes cascading effects to native biodiversity. Duff is important for nutrient exchange networks involving fungi mycelium and plant roots. It is also where many seeds germinate. The change in forest floor structure reduces plant diversity and affects other species such as ground nesting birds, small mammals, invertebrates, and woodland salamanders.
In this episode of Outdoor Radio, hosts Kent McFarland and Sara Zahendra are at the Green Mountain Audubon Center in Huntington, Vermont. They are joined by Mark Labarr, Conservation Program Manager for the Green Mountain Audubon Center, Dr. Josef Görres, from the Plant and Soil Science department at UVM and a graduate student studying the snake worm, Maryam Nouri-Aiin. Join them as they search the forest floor, in the rain, looking for invasive species of worms.
Listen to the Show
- Earthworms in Vermont forests report from VT Forest, Parks and Recreation and UVM study.
- If you find jumping worms, take photos and add them to the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturlalist.
- View an interactive map of locations where they have been reported to the Atlas.
- Jumping Worm information and identification card from WI DNR
- Illustrated key to Canada earthworms
- Invasive Earthworms in Northeastern Sugarbushes – slide deck presentation
More Images from the Show
Outdoor Radio is produced in collaboration with Vermont Public Radio.