Generally, worms are wonderful friends to have in your garden, but that isn't the case with the invasive species of jumping worms that have infiltrated Tennessee.

Worms are (Generally) Wonderful

You "average" worm - there are actually several different kinds including those that hang out in leaf litter, and those that burrow vertically into the ground - are really good for our ecosystem. In fact, according to the USDA, they add a number of vitamins and nutrients to the soil like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The USDA says worms,

  • Improve soil stability, air porosity and moisture holding capacity by burrowing and aggregating soil;
  • Turn soil over and may reduce the incidence of disease by bringing deeper soil to the surface and burying organic matter;
  • Improve water infiltration by forming channels and promoting soil aggregation;
  • Improve root growth by creating channels lined with nutrients for plant roots to follow.
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Worms are Excellent Composters

Worms make excellent composters and when added to garbage, can create incredibly nutrient-rich fertilizer. UC Davis explains how they aid in improving the soil, saying that they not only add rich nutrients but also work to aerate the soil as well.

Earthworms crawl through soil consuming organic matter and in the process break it down (decompose it) and produce worm castings (worm manure), which are rich in nutrients, humus and microorganisms. In this process, earthworms also mix and aerate the soil. Together all of these effects help improve numerous soil physical characteristics. -UC Davis
attachment-Tennessee Jumping Worms (2)

Invasive Jumping Worms in Tennessee

While your average, run-of-the-mill worm is your friend in the garden, there is an invasive species that is not a friend but a foe. The invasive Asian jumping worms, sometimes called Alabama jumpers, crazy worms, or snake worms due to the way they move, have been confirmed in many Tennessee counties, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park according to National Parks Department.

The researchers found the invasive Jumping Worm at almost three quarters of their study sites in the Smoky Mountains, which allows them to compare types and numbers of prey species in invaded and non-invaded sites. - National Parks Department

Invasive Jumping Worms and the Damage They Cause

These garden pests will eat up all of the organic material at the surface of the soil destroying lawns, gardens, farmland, and forests. The waste left behind looks like coffee grounds and offers no nutritional value to plants. They also do not aid in air and water flow for the soil like regular worms do.

READ MORE: This Invasive Worm Found in Tennessee Secretes a Neurotoxin

How Did Jumping Worms Get to Tennessee?

These worms are not native to Tennessee and they also do not migrate. That means that humans are primarily responsible for the jumping worms that now call Tennessee home. At one time, they were sold for fishing and composting. Experts say that the worms have likely spread through the transfer of soil, compost, or plants from other places.

How to Spot Invasive Asian Jumping Worms

If you suspect that you might have jumping worms, one recommendation from the University of Illinois suggests using a solution made from 1/4 cup of ground yellow mustard and one gallon of water. When poured onto the ground, the mixture will irritate the worms, causing them to make their way to the surface. They can be identified by their "trashing behavior and snake-like crawling."

READ MORE: Is It Illegal to Kill a Snake in Tennessee?

How to Stop the Spread of Jumping Worms

According to Master Gardeners of Hamilton County Tennessee, there is no way to chemically or biologically treat the soil. In the case of Asian Jumping Worms, the old adage about an ounce of prevention really stands true. You should avoid sharing soil and compost, as well as avoid bringing home potted plants from unknown sources. Additionally, when purchasing compost, you will want to be sure that it has been heat treated.

Since jumping worms live in the soil, they can be spread in mulch, potting mixes or potted plants. Raking or blowing leaves can move and concentrate earthworms or their egg sacks, called cocoons. Some municipalities collect fallen leaves from local residents, and then return it in the form of compost. This too can spread the invasive worms. - USDA Forestry Services

"Solarizing" Can Kill Invasive Asian Jumping Worms

Some recommend a process known as solarizing that can be used to rid your soil of unwanted guests. It involves wrapping soil or compost in dark plastic or tarp on a sunny day to raise the temperature of the soil. Learn more about the solarizing process here.

Quiz: Do you know your state insect?

Stacker has used a variety of sources to compile a list of the official state insect(s) of each U.S. state, as well as their unique characteristics. Read on to see if you can guess which insect(s) represent your state. 

Gallery Credit: Andrew Vale


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