Jumping Worms Spreading Through North America, Ecologist Suggests a Kitchen Ingredient to Get Rid of Them

The jumping worm, originating in Asia, is ruining forests and gardens in North America.

Earthworms are good for the soil, but so-called jumping worms, an invasive species from Asia, can devastate gardens and forests, and they are spreading across North America. 

“They're found in 37 states, as far as we know now, as well as Ontario.” says Brad Herrick, ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. “ ...[I]f you get a bunch of jumping worms together, they'll probably be able to get off the ground, maybe an inch. So, not very high, but an inch is pretty high for a little jumping worm, [but] it's when you have a lot of them in one area, it's pretty creepy.”

The ecologist shared that depending on the species of worm, they can get up to eight inches long, and because they don’t have any predators, they multiply quickly. 

“The problem is when they get to have high abundance, they eat so much of the food. And by food, I mean leaves that fall from the trees, what we call leaf litter, or in your garden, they'll even eat little roots in your garden.” he said.

“And that really changes the whole, what we call ecosystem. It changes the soil, it changes the plant, it changes what can live there. And it's usually things like the native species that are supposed to be here that really get harmed the most.”

Herrick says that these jumping worms are especially harmful to gardens and sugar maple forests, leaving the area with just bare soil. This results in difficulty for any native plants to grow and increased erosion, ultimately changing the way the forest looks overall. 

If you find these worms in your garden, the ecologist suggests getting rid of them as quickly as possible with “the mustard pour.”  

“...you take a third cup of dry mustard powder, and you mix it with a gallon of water, and you shake it up really well. It becomes this yellow slurry, and you can pour it over the soil and wait maybe 30 seconds to a minute. Eventually if there's any earthworms in that soil, they will rise to the top. 

“[The mustard] is a skin irritant and their reaction is to get out of that soil as fast as possible. And they come vertically out of the soil, and you can just see them come up and you can pick them out.

After you’ve collected the worms, you can tie them up in a bag and toss them in the garbage. To be sure you don’t bring any critters with you, Herrick suggests using a brush to dust your shoes off before going back into your house.

Related Stories