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Invasive 'jumping worm' found in Iowa

Worm discovered in two Eastern Iowa counties

A jumping worm consumes fallen leaves and organic material at a rapid pace. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forest Health/Courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship)
A jumping worm consumes fallen leaves and organic material at a rapid pace. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forest Health/Courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship)

An invasive earthworm, commonly known as a jumping worm, has been found in Iowa for the first time.

Specialists at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach have confirmed the worm’s presence in both Dubuque and Muscatine counties, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said Wednesday.

The worms can be problematic, State Entomologist Robin Pruisner said, because they do not burrow down into soil and they consume fallen leaves and organic material at a quick pace.

“They are like eating machines. They blow through the nutrients in it really quickly, process it until it’s gone, they make the remaining top few inches of the soil very granular, like coffee grounds,” Pruisner said in an interview.

That, in turn, can cause soil in forested areas to become more compacted, leading to more water runoff or erosion, Pruisner said.

“Then, in the end, the trees and the plants that are there can be deprived of their natural nutrients because the worms processed it all and it’s gone,” she said.

The worms are more likely to be found in forested areas rather than land where row crops are grown, Pruisner said.

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Jumping worms can be identified by their “vigorous wriggling and thrashing behavior” when disturbed, the Iowa Department of Agriculture said. They can grow to a length of between one and a half and eight inches, and have a cloudy-white, smooth band around the circumference of their body. The worms are also asexual and can produce on their own.

Also known as snake worms, crazy worms or Alabama jumpers, the worm also has been found in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, in addition to some states to the east of Iowa.

No quarantines have been issued in Iowa, the agriculture department said. The agency said Iowans should not move compost, mulch, topsoil or plants from potentially infested areas.

If Iowans think their property has jumping worms, they can submit photos or samples to the Iowa State University Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic. Instructions for submissions can be found at https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/pidc/insect.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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