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3 things to know about the destructive 'jumping worms' making their way across Illinois
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3 things to know about the destructive 'jumping worms' making their way across Illinois

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Earthworms known for their destructive nature are making their way across Illinois.

The invasive creatures known as "jumping worms" have now been confirmed in 38 counties, including Sangamon.

The worms, which are native to East Asia, also are suspected to be in six more Illinois counties, according to horticulture educator Ken Johnson, who works with the University of Illinois Extension. Last week, Morgan County was added to the state's growing list of confirmed places where jumping worms — named for their unique and active movements — have been spotted.

The creatures were first discovered in Illinois in 2015.

As the worms continue to be found in communities across the state, here are three things to know.

What do they look like?

Chicago's Tree House Humane Society has found a way to solve two problems at once: They're taking feral cats that are unable to thrive in a home or shelter and placing them into the care of local residents and businesses looking for a natural solution to rat infestations.

Jumping worms are between four to eight inches long. They have glossy dark brown or gray skin with a smooth white clitellum — color band — near the top of their bodies. The bottom of their bodies are often a lighter shade of brown or gray.

When disturbed, jumping worms will jump, squirm, flip and thrash. They can also shed their tails in defense.

The invasive creatures are usually seen from mid-summer through the first freeze. They are often found in three to four inches of soil, garden beds, mulch layer, leaf litter, in lawns and on pavement after rain.

What makes them a threat?

Jumping worms have the potential to be very destructive to both home landscapes and natural areas.

The worms consume organic matter in the soil that is needed by plants. They change soil structure — depleting nutrients, damaging plant roots and altering the soil's ability to hold water.

Jumping worms can also reproduce without mating. Even though there is debate over whether the adult worms can survive winters in central Illinois, their eggs can.

Is there a way to stop the spread?

There are no control measures that have proven successful in ridding already-infested areas of jumping worms, but there are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent the spread of the worms.

These measures include thoroughly cleaning tools and equipment before moving them from one site to another and purchasing compost and mulch that has been heated to reduce the spread of the eggs.

Not sharing soil, compost, mulch or plants between gardens and carefully inspecting new plant material for jumping worms before planting are a couple of the other measures people can take to prevent the spread of jumping worms.

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