DUBUQUE, Iowa — An invasive species of earthworm has invaded Iowa.
The state’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship says the “jumping worm” has been confirmed in Dubuque and Muscatine counties. This species, also known as “crazy worms” or “Alabama jumpers,” originated from East Asia and has settled in several states in the U.S. They were confirmed in the neighboring states of Wisconsin in 2013 and Illinois in 2015.
"Jumping worms" are most identifiable by vigorous wriggling and thrashing behavior when picked up or disturbed. These worms behave more like snakes than worms and can grow from 1.5 inches to eight inches in length.
Experts say “jumping worms” are able to consume soil and leaf litter at a faster rate than other earthworms, allowing it to out-compete other species. The creatures also reproduce more quickly than other common earthworms and adults leave behind cocoons or offspring, which can survive over winter, making them undetectable until they are adults.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture says the state has no native earthworm species, so all types of worms are invasive and may alter natural habitats through the consumption of leaf litter and soil. Leaf litter acts as a protective layer of skin on open areas of land, protecting undisturbed land from invasive plants and diseases. Experts says when this litter and soil are consumed by earthworms, it exposes the land to compaction, increased water runoff, erosion, and clears the way for invasive plants to take root on the newly cleared soil. Officials say the result is less diversity of native plants, and thus less diversity of animals.