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'This is a serious matter' | CT scientist issues alert about invasive 'Jumping Worms'

They can mainly be found on the shoreline, and in Fairfield County.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A new trio of earthworms has been found in Connecticut, and an alert from the state Agricultural Experiment Station said they have the potential to damage our ecosystem.

They're called jumping worms, and experts are calling them "earthworms on steroids."

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"This is a serious matter that we're dealing with," said Dr. Gale Ridge, Associate Scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

Dr. Ridge noticed the worms pop up last year when she started getting a lot of calls from neighbors, mainly on the shoreline and in Fairfield County. So, she paired up with a colleague, Dr. Josef Gorres, and started doing a lot of research. Recently, she sent out an alert and fact sheet. 

"These worms have the potential of infesting New England all the way up into Canada and the Eastern Seaboard," Dr. Ridge said. 

But what makes them so dangerous? They're surface feeders, leaving behind a layer of fecal matter, known as castings, that could damage the top layer of our land.

"Jumping worms alter composition of the topsoil by homogenizing the top layer and natural organic layers (organic or O horizon) of the soil, transforming leaf litter, soil fungi, and normal soil structure into a loose black layer of worm castings (feces)," Dr. Ridge wrote in her report.

The impact could be devastating.

"It will completely change the ecology of the New England forest floor, basically making extinct native forest floor plants as well as animals, such as ground-nesting bird," Dr. Ridge said.

The jumping worms also release toxic metals like mercury and lead, hurting the animals that eat them. Luckily, they're easy to spot.

"They are very distinctive, A, because they are extremely vigorous and thrash when you handle them, to try and escape, and they will run along the surface and move like a snake," Dr. Ridge said.

They also have a creamy white band behind the head. Scientists are trying to get rid of them.

"We're working hard on this, but we need to be given time, and the general public can give us that time," Dr. Ridge said. 

Fishermen can help, by not using jumping worms as bait. They should also not poor their leftover bait into the soil after their done.

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Those with gardens can help too, by buying bare-root plants, since they're found in potted plants. If you do buy a potted plant, Dr. Ridge recommends not putting the entire plant and soil in the backyard, since there's a strong chance there may be jumping worms in the soil. She said to get a sheet of painter's plastic, lay it out on the driveway, shake all soil out of the roots of the plant, then lightly wash the roots, and then go and plant the plant. What's left behind, you have to treat by wrapping that soil up in the plastic and duck taping it down, so no worms can slither out and get away, and then let it sit in the sun for two days.

The jumping worms can also be found in mulch that's not heat treated. Dr. Ridge recommends checking with the seller to make sure it's been heat-treated from 105-131 degrees for at least three days. 

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But right now, they're premature. You won't see full-grown jumping worms in CT until next month. If you can, Dr. Ridge said to pick them out, put them in water, and drown them.

"Every worm that you hand pick, is 90 less worms next year," Dr. Ridge said.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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