LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Experts are concerned about the potential threat posed to Nebraska agriculture by an invasive worm from Asia.
The Asian jumping worms can deplete soil of nutrients, damage plant roots and alter the soil’s capacity to hold water. They’ve been confirmed in several states, including Nebraska’s next-door neighbor, Iowa, last year.
It’s unclear how or when the species, which has historically called Japan and the Korean Peninsula home, arrived in the United States. Experts think it likely was brought by boat in a plant shipment.
The worms move fast, like snakes, and appear to be jumping when disturbed. They’re sometimes called “Alabama jumpers” or “crazy snake worms,” can reproduce without fertilization and are popular as fish bait.
The peril for plants? The jumping worms don’t provide channels for plants to take root as other worms do as they move through the soil, and their excreta isn’t easily accessible for plants that use it for its nutrients.
“All it’s doing is it’s breaking down that top layer” of soil, Allison Zach, coordinator of the Nebraska Invasive Species Program, told the Lincoln Journal Star .
“These worms eat so much that all the invertebrates die off, and that goes up the food chain,” she said.
Oregon State University professor Samuel Chan, who’s studied the worms, said it’s difficult to determine what financial impact the worms could have on Nebraska’s agriculture, given that they would be a relatively new invasive species in the state.
Zach said the worms have the potential to affect agriculture because as they break down leaf and plant litter it changes the carbon-nitrogen ratio in the soil, which can cause pesticides to be less effective to protect crops from pests. She also said the worms’ activity will increase soil erosion, which could remove nutrients from ag fields.
She urges people who think they’ve spotted one of the worms to call the Nebraska Invasive Species Program at 402-472-3133 or report it through a website, www.neinvasives.com .