Subscribe for 33¢ / day

“The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” — Anonymous

I recently attended a seminar on worms and was impressed with the information that was presented.

Earthworms are not native to Wisconsin. There actually are no worms native to Wisconsin but most benefit gardens. Worms are invading forests and eating feeder roots of native trees, which is a concern to conservationists.

Earthworms live up to 10 years and can grow from 4 inches up to 14 inches. They tunnel underground and eat soil. They are cold-blooded and can have five hearts. Earthworms have a slimy lubricating fluid that helps them move through the soil.

The lubricant is nitrogen, which also is beneficial to soil. They are mostly flesh-colored. They have a section on their body that is raised, called a clitellum. This distinguishes the beneficial earthworm from the invasive jumping worm, which has become common in southern Wisconsin and is an invasive species.

Jumping worms die in winter. They only live about 40-60 days, but leave many cocoons that are microscopic and survive the winter. Jumping worms were discovered in 2013 and have spread rapidly. The reason these worms are so bad is they live on the top of soil and take all the nutrients out of it when they ingest it, leaving a soil that looks like coffee grounds. The soil will not permit plants to grow. Each year the soil will get deeper until nothing vegetative will grow. Jumping worms produce young without a mate, so one worm can start a population.

You will recognize them by their appearance. They are smooth, glossy and gray in color. The clitellum is lighter, smooth and completely encircles their body. They are not slimy like earthworms. Jumping worms jump, thrash wildly and can shed their tails as a defense. If you see one, you have more. They hatch in June, die in winter, and leave many cocoons.

So far, there is nothing to stop the spread of them or kill them. You can try to prevent them from invading your yard or garden by making sure to check the soil, potted plants and compost you purchase and make sure they are free of these worms. Wash garden tools with a 10 percent bleach solution. Remove soil and debris from vehicles and personal gear before moving from your garden to another area. Researchers are working on prevention, but so far nothing seems to eradicate these worms.

On the bright side for people who fish, earthworms do not have nerve endings, so they feel no pain when placed on a hook. A word of caution is do not empty extra worms into the environment, as many are invasive.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at pboth@charter.net or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.