Ewwww: Crazy snake worms invading area - BlueStone Press
December 14, 2017
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Ewwww: Crazy snake worms invading area

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As if life weren’t crazy enough, gardeners -- you seekers of peace and beauty -- have a whole new challenge to face. The crazy snake worms have arrived.

“It’s an invasive species that I first heard of five years ago, with much disbelief,” said Victoria Coyne, owner of Victoria Gardens. “They’re here, they’re pretty prominent, and they do what I have read they’ll do, which is destroy your mulch and make the soil too loamy. Which sounds nuts, because loamy soil is normally a good thing, but this is too much of a good thing.”

According to master gardener and community horticulture educator Dona M. Crawford of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County, crazy snake worms -- also known as jumpers in Alabama and wrigglers in Jersey, and properly called Amynthas agrestis -- hail from Asia originally and, besides their ability to move themselves 5-10 meters a year, travel greater distances with “fishermen, nursery stock and potted plants, commercial compost and mulch, and municipal compost and mulch,” said Crawford. “We recommend dumping out all the soil on any new plants, washing off the roots and then destroying the potentially contaminated soil in the landfill.”

How do you know if your garden has crazy snake worms? They’re hard to miss. And despite being an icky nuisance, they’re sort of amazing. “They’re 6 to 8 inches long,” said Crawford. “Adults have a light-colored saddle all around one end of their bodies. They move like snakes, and jump around very vigorously, jumping out of your hand. They can even shed their tails like salamanders, and then can reproduce from this piece. If you look at them in the light they have iridescent stripes. They are often found in woody mulch.”

“Yesterday I was working in my own garden at home and I must have seen 100,” said Coyne. “They’re a pain to pick up; they’re snakelike and they wiggle terribly. Birds can’t really get a grip on them, so they’re not effective predators. They do much more of a snakelike movement than normal worms do, but they can’t climb hills, for what that’s worth. The adults die in winter, but they’ve already laid their eggs. I’m hoping the moles will decide to eat them – but then, of course, you’ve got a potentially bigger mole problem.”

Coyne said she’s having some limited success with diatomaceous earth, “but it’s hard to tell how much it’s working. It’s a nasty problem, and I have no idea how it will ultimately be solved.”

Other suggestions from Crawford, ones that sound alarmingly as if borrowed from a serial killer’s handbook: “Try using black plastic mulch and solarizing the ground; they die at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.The worms exude calcium and change the soil pH, so one way to discourage them is to spread sulphur with oak leaf mulch. You can drown them in alcohol, freeze them, or throw them in a plastic bag in the trash or in the sun. They do not drown, so do not throw them in a pond, unless you have hungry fish. You might have to cut them in pieces for smaller fish to be able to eat them.”

Charming, isn’t it? But whatever you do, don’t toss them into the nearby woods, where they’re an ecological disaster waiting to happen. “They are voracious eaters and can digest all the organic matter on the forest floor within two to five years,” said Crawford. “This change in the ecosystem of the forest floor is seriously disturbing forest structure, leading to the death of the normal decomposers that live in forest soil. The soil becomes loose, like coffee grounds. The worms eat so much that the forest understory is reduced, and thus the tree seedlings are not growing, ground nesting birds have lost the habitat they need to reproduce, spring ephemerals are unable to reproduce, and, in combination with deer, the forest is unable to reproduce.”

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