An invasive worm species was recently discovered rooting around in Oregon's soil. The species, Amynthas agresitis, also known as the "Asian jumping worm" or "crazy snake worm" was found in the soil in forests in Clackamas and Josephine counties.
These worms are known for their energetic movements, hence their nicknames. But don't be fooled by their fun behavior — they pose a serious threat to Oregon's natural ecosystem.
"Most of the other earthworms that are already in Oregon are either native earthworms, which we do not know to be a problem in any sense ... [or] exotic earthworms from Europe," said Oregon Department of Agriculture entomologist Jim LaBonte.
"But these are more surface active and they feed on the litter and organic layer near the top of the soil that is essential for forest health," he told Think Out Loud Host Dave Miller. "They are at least in part responsible for the entire removal of this entire layer in some areas of the Great Lakes, and they are being documented in some areas elsewhere in the East.”
This vital layer of soil provides many key benefits for the ecosystem, including moisture retention and nutrient recycling. By devouring the entire top layer, the "Asian jumping worms" can interrupt the natural processes that take place in this layer of soil.
And it's not just their appetites that has entomologists like LaBonte worried. They reproduce much faster than other invasive worm species, their damage spreading quickly across the region.
“These can be 10 times more abundant than these other exotic earthworms," he said.
How did these invasive worms get here? The jury is still out on this, but one theory is people interested in composting may have imported the worms. Or they could have migrated westward on cargo ships via international trade.