NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A ravenous species of earthworm has arrived in Connecticut with the potential to cause all sorts of damage to forests and wildlife.
The so-called “jumping worms” can destabilize the soil and make it harder for shallow-rooted plants to grow, according to state scientist Dr. Gale Ridge. They also can accumulate toxic metals like mercury and lead, which are then eaten by birds and other animals.
They do not actually jump, but have strong, rigid bodies that can whip violently if they are disturbed. They also can climb and have been found in the upper stories of buildings.
“These are earthworms on steroids,” said Ridge, who works for the entomology department at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.
The worms, originally brought from Japan in the 1940s to feed platypuses at the Bronx Zoo, are spread mostly through the transport of mulch, compost and potted plants, and have been found throughout the state but mostly along the shore and in Fairfield County.
Their waste looks like black Grape Nuts Cereal and also doubles as protection for cocoons. Female jumping worms can produce 90-100 larvae during their lifetime.
As of now, there is not a pesticide or method that specifically targets jumping worms. Ridge said to be vigilant and check soil and potted plants thoroughly.
Ridge advised not buying compost or mulch unless the seller can prove it has been heat-treated from 105 degrees to 131 degrees for at least three days, and not buying worms on the internet. If you do find a jumping worm, put it in a bucket with soapy water so it drowns.
Andrew Hathaway leads the Goatville Community Garden in East Rock. The garden grows dozens of pounds of produce every summer. To protect the harvest, he is on the lookout for these worms.
“As any gardener will say, you have to be vigilant about your gardening because you’re constantly fighting off weeds. It’s a very hands-on experience, you’re always here at the garden.”
If you are unsure about new soil, you can bring it to the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station in New Haven to test it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.