There are many different types of worm. Your common earthworm, for example, is just one species and contains many sub-species including the jumping worm.
So, what’s the difference between earthworms vs Jumping worms?
Although we are only recently understanding the importance of earthworms in our gardens, the stigma around these creatures has started to spread yet again, this time due to a specific type of earthworm: the Asian jumping worm.
These little creatures are making headlines due to their impact on the environment, but as it stands, very few of us actually know anything about jumping worms.
- What are they?
- How are they different to earthworms?
- Where do they come from?
Let’s find out.
Is a Jumping Worm an earthworm?
Jumping worms (scientific name: Amynthas agrestis),
also known as:
- Asian jumping worms
- crazy worms
- snake worms
- Alabama jumpers
..are indeed a type of earthworm.
Jumping worms are, however, relatively easy to distinguish from European earthworms.
Over the past few years, we have begun to hear a lot more about this invasive species.
The spread of jumping worms has caused severe damage to plants, forests, and agriculture everywhere.
If you believe that your garden could have some jumping worms, it is definitely time to treat the garden before the problem becomes too severe.
First of all, you need to identify what jumping worms actually look like – so you know what you’re dealing with.
What’s the Difference Between an Earthworm and a Jumping Worm?
Though they can look similar in appearance, there are many differences between the common earthworm and the jumping worm which can make them easy to identify:
Where as most earthworms are of a light, pinky color, jumping worms are usually a dark brown color, with some an off-brown, almost grey color. This is an easy way to identify them
The clitellum on Asian Jumping Worms is also of a lighter color than the rest of their bodies – a sort of milky color – and doesn’t swell out as much on these worms as it does on more common European worms.
The location of the clitellum is much higher up the body on jumping worms (closer to the head) than it is on European Earthworms. See the image below:
Invasive jumping worms move like snakes, slithering from side to side, and of course, they are named after their “jumping” habits.
Though technically, they don’t jump. They just move so erratically when disturbed that it can be mistaken for a leap.
The earthworm is a lot calmer with its movements, though they can also rapidly pull back when touched. They just don’t thrash around as much as the Asian jumping worms do.
Although you may not be able to notice it immediately, an adult jumping worm will also be smaller than an adult earthworm.
They tend to only grow to between four to five inches, whereas common earthworms can reach six to eight inches long.
Asian jumping worms casting’s are grittier and generally look a bit like coffee grounds when compared to the fluffier castings that earthworms tend to produce.
Where you see these castings on top of the soil, Asian jumping worms are near.
Asian jumping worms reproduce parthenogenetically (without the need for a partner). They can produce cocoons alone. This could cause them to spread quickly.
Are Jumping Worms Bad?
Sadly, although the presence of earthworms in the ground and soil is generally much appreciated, jumping worms only ever seem to cause problems according to the science.
First of all, they feed on live organic matter, unlike many earthworm species which only feed on dead matter.
They have been proven to drastically change the soil structure, causing severe damage to gardens, trees, forests etc.
They also deplete the helpful natural resources of animals like ground-dwelling birds who use leaf litter to hide their eggs from predators and nest.
So, their spread can wipe out native plants and wildlife from the area they have invaded.
If that’s not bad enough, they don’t need a partner to produce cocoons and spread their seed!
The positive spin on them could be that these worms provide food for moles and maybe some birds (though many birds DON’T eat jumping worms and spit them out!).
They generally do more harm than good.
Where Do Jumping Worms Live?
Though they can occasionally dwell deeper, they mostly live on the surface of soils or the forest floor, consuming the nutrients before they can nourish the ground, the plants, and the trees.
They generally live in leaf litter, mulch, and compost.
Spreading their eggs is very easy for them, too, as they reproduce parthenogenetically (alone), and their eggs are small brown balls, making them difficult to distinguish from other parts of the soil.
Their cocoons can also withstand very cold temperatures and can continue to develop when the temperatures rise.
Jumping worm castings also have a grittier texture vs other earthworms and some have described them looking like coffee grounds on top of the soil.
Where did jumping worms come from?
Although they are native to eastern Asia (sometimes even called Asian jumping worms), jumping worms were initially found in Wisconsin, as the Wisconsin DNR (Department of Natural Resources) states.
Specifically, they were found by the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum.
Although they are non-native to the upper midwest, research has shown that the spreading of the worms may have occurred years ago due to plants being moved around and sent from various countries.
Therefore, you’re likely to see them far beyond the UW Madison Arboretum – always keep a close eye on your soil.
Though jumping worms are a type of earthworm, there are also some key differences with many common and popular species, but there are also some similarities with others.
The main difference and characteristic is in the name; jumping earthworms can “jump” (it’s technically an erratic jerk that looks like a leap)!
And while they may not always do it (they tend to do it under stress), you can almost certainly tell from their color, size and erratic movements whether you’re dealing with one or not.
Unfortunately, to say they’re not as beneficial as most earthworms would be understatement.
They can cause destruction to soil, forest and plants. If you notice a plant with this worm in the soil, and you were planning to move it elsewhere, don’t!
You could be facilitating the spread and destruction of their new location’s soil, compost and natural wildlife populations.
If you have them in the soils around your property and wondering why you’re not getting much plant growth or why you’re not seeing the wildlife you’re expecting to, it’s probably because Asian jumping worms are draining or interfering with the balance and nutrients.