The crazy worm – aka the Asian jumping worm, Alabama jumpers, Jersey wrigglers – are an invasive species from the Amynthas genus, originally native to Japan and the Korean Peninsula. These fugitives originally came to North America in the 19th century on international trading ships, thought to hitchhike around the country hidden in plants.
These are very peculiar gnarly-looking creatures that seem to be written by a sci-fi author – they can thrash violently like a rattlesnake, jump a foot in the air, and can clone themselves.
These invasive species have been wriggling their way slowly across the states. As of 2021, they have been found in Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Now they have now taken refuge in California, and it may be bad news for the environment around them.
In July 2021, the worm was identified by a California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) entomologist in a containerized plant in a nursery in Napa County, and since then has been confirmed through DNA sequencing.
"It is likely that Amynthas agrestis will be able to establish a widespread distribution through California's forest habitat and ornamental production sites, particularly in residential and commercial environments." CDFA reported.
These worms are a big problem and scientists are worried about them as these nutrient-sucking worms do nothing for the soil and leave a coffee-ground-like mess.
“It has no nutritional value and it doesn’t hold any moisture — water runs right through it,” Eugene Reelick, owner of Hollandia Nursery in Bethel, told AP News. “It’s really been stripped. The only thing you can do is dig it up and replace it with new topsoil.”
These worms are never satiated and can eat the litter layer of the forest, which is home to many tiny animals and plants. The latter cannot grow or spread without the layer of leaf litter.
“Soil is the foundation of life – and Asian jumping worms change it,” says Mac Callaham, a Forest Service researcher. “In fact, earthworms can have such huge impacts that they’re able to actually reengineer the ecosystems around them.”
These worms compete with other more garden-friendly earthworms for nutrients and can lead to poor-quality soil. Their eggs can also hatch without being fertilized, allowing them to produce thousands of eggs that are well camouflaged in the surrounding soil.
So, how can you get rid of these eggs? Unfortunately, at the moment there are no reliable recommendations, as these are very tough little critters and the cocoons can withstand extremely cold weather. A study that used "prescribed fire" showed that this may reduce the number of eggs but not wipe them out completely. It is thought the best way would be to handpick and destroy them.