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Conservation-Lions and Worms and Bears – Oh My! By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director

February 13, 2020
Reinbeck Courier
I recently returned from our statewide meetings in Coralville. Each year there are educational sessions of much interest and others not so much. Hey – I’m not complaining because my years of service on that planning committee are long ago and I understand the difficulty in seeking out speakers and topics. This year, the session of great interest was one on invasive species. In the past, there have been updates on mountain lions but that has become old hat as sightings even appear to have diminished of late. And we have had sessions on black bears in the past. We, of course, had an Easter bear make a beeline across Grundy County in 2017. Last spring during turkey season, the black bear that made the news did so because a Grundy County resident quickly grabbed his cellphone and recorded the bear while hunting near Decorah. But no black bear session this year either. Part of the session on invasive species involved jumping worms. My mind went immediately to the beans that my grandparents brought home to me as a child from a trip to Mexico. I could hold them and feel this creature jumping around inside the bean. Mexican jumping beans jump because they have little moth larvae inside. But new to me was that we have something called jumping worms in Iowa. Other names given them are angry worms or snake worms, names that describe their wild movement. They violently writhe and squirm when disturbed and move more like a snake than an earthworm. Most correctly, they are called Asian Jumping Worms and that describes where they originated in East Asia and are believed to have arrived in North America with potted plants, nursery stock or soil. They have been in the southeastern U.S. for many years, including in the Great Smoky Mountains. They were confirmed in the neighboring states of Wisconsin in 2013 and Illinois in 2015. As of 2019, they have been documented in nine Iowa counties. We assume jumping worms are much more widely spread than reports indicate. They closely resemble the nightcrawlers that we hunt in our backyards. Jumping worms are darker and a bit smaller. They are smoother than our usual nightcrawlers and garden worms. Jumping worms have a milky-white and smooth narrow band (clitellum) that surrounds the entire circumference of the body. Other earthworm species have a raised clitellum. This is a pretty reliable characteristic when wondering. So, why should we be concerned? If anything they would make better fishing bait, right? While this might be true, jumping worms are surface-dwellers; they live in leaf litter and organic matter at the soil surface. They do not burrow into the soil the way nightcrawlers and garden worms do. Jumping worms consume surface organic matter, and once established, populations can build quickly. They can out-compete and push out the other earthworms and degrade ecosystems, especially forests and woodlands by stripping the soil surface of protective organic matter. Because jumping worms feed only in the top litter portion of the turf or forest layers, they are voracious and consume much of the organic matter in that thin layer. In extreme cases, the roots of the plants are exposed and subject to erosion, as well. If you believe you might have jumping worms, please contact the Iowa State Extension.


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