Don’t Bug Out: Invasive Jumping Worms 101

Worms are on the mind of many gardeners in our community these days, and not just any worm, the invasive jumping worm (Amynthas agrestis). They’re popping up in gardens, lawns, farms, and forests across our region. New the jumping worm conversation? Here’s the scoop. 

How long have they been here, where are they, and how are they spreading?

  • Invasive jumping worms have been reported in Maine since 2017 and the greater Brunswick area since 2021.
  • They reproduce rapidly and their eggs are extremely small, making them the perfect unintentional hitchhiker, further enabling their spread.
  • They are now considered widespread and are being found all over our region and throughout the state.
  • Want to learn how to identify them? CLICK HERE for a helpful video. 

Why are they an issue?

  • They pose a threat to other soil organisms by eating much of the organic material that other organisms would normally be feeding on.  
  • They disrupt soil structure, especially the upper layers, and the organic matter content of the soil. This soil disruption can have serious impacts on our gardens, lawns, and forest ecosystems, specifically disrupting the growth of native plants and trees. 
  • Currently, there are no easy ways to get rid of them, but there is on-going, extensive research taking place all over the country. Even though they are widespread across the state, it is still important to reduce their spread and focus on keeping them out of forest ecosystems. 

This past season, jumping worms were discovered at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. While this is disappointing, it is not surprising, given that they were found in the Brunswick area in 2021. After a confirmation from the Maine state Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry that the worms at TSCG were the Amynthas jumping worm, the Land Trust formed the Worm Task Force to focus on mitigating worm spread, monitor other BTLT properties, and educating our community. The Worm Task Force has been busy digging into research, creating new protocols for TSCG, and ensuring we will be following all best practices for our Annual Taking Root Plant Sale.   

What’s BTLT doing now?

At the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, we are moving forward with some new protocols for worm mitigation. If you are visiting TSCG or volunteering in the Garden this season, please make sure you adhere to the following procedures to help reduce the spread of jumping worms in our community:  

  • You must use the boot brushes located at the Garden entrances for your shoes both before entering TSCG and before leaving.  
  • Garden tools must be cleaned at the tool cleaning station. Any garden tools brought into the garden must be cleaned before use in TSCG and before leaving TSCG.  
  • Please dispose of any jumping worms properly, please check with the Garden Coordinator.  

Earlier this month, as part of our Growing Literacy: Winter Garden Workshop series with Curtis Memorial Library and Growing to Give, we hosted a ‘Jumping Worms 101’ workshop. About 95 folks joined us to hear from Gary Fish, the Maine State Horticulturist, about how to best manage these worms in Maine. His biggest words of advice? Don’t panic! If you missed the workshop, you can watch the recording HERE and view the slideshow presentation HERE.

More information about the jumping worms from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry website 

What YOU Can Do

Don’t panic – while it can be upsetting to find an invasive species, researchers are currently working on learning more about this species and hopefully there will be controls for them down the road. Do not try to manage the worms with chemicals or products not labeled for that purpose. Currently, there are no pesticides or approved methods to manage jumping worms. Using products without this use explicitly included on the label is illegal.  

Remove and destroy any adult jumping worms if you see them – this can be done by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water or sealing them in a plastic bag.   

Help to prevent their spread – Unfortunately, there are currently no curative management options available for property owners and managers dealing with existing jumping worm infestations. There are no pesticides labeled for earthworm management in the United States, so no products can be legally used for this purpose. Therefore, prevention is essential. Some preventative measures that concerned citizens can utilize include but are not limited to:   

  • Learn how to recognize jumping worms and teach your family, friends, colleagues, etc.    
  • Look for jumping worm adults and their grainy, dried coffee ground-like castings. Not seeing the adults on the substrate surface, but have reason to believe they may be there? Try mixing a gallon of water and 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed and pouring that slowly over the soil/area with suspicious castings. If present in that location, the worms will be irritated (not killed) and brought to the surface where they can be collected for identification.
  • Do not purchase worms advertised as jumping worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers, or crazy worms for any purpose (ex. composting or fishing baits).    

Anglers: never dispose of unused fishing baits into the environment. Always throw away unwanted bait worms in the trash.  

Gardeners: look for evidence of jumping worms in soil, compost, mulch, potted plants, etc. If you see coffee ground-like castings in these materials or notice jumping worm adults, report them. Do not move materials known to contain jumping worms to new locations.    

Composters: heat materials to the appropriate temperatures and duration following protocols that reduce pathogens. Recent research suggests that heating the cocoons of jumping worms to somewhere around 104°F for 3 days will kill the egg-containing cocoons.    

Click here for a helpful info sheet for homeowners.

The BTLT Worm Task Force will continue to develop strategies for gardening alongside the worms as we explore ways to reduce worm populations in TSCG and beyond. We encourage you to share this post with others to help educate our community!