"Crazy," "jumping" worms are causing a problem in Maine and other places in New England.
Officially, they are amynthas, but they are also known by other names like "crazy worms," "Alabama jumpers," "jumping worms" and "snake worms."
According to Maine's state horticulturist, Gary Fish, the creatures are an invasive species from Asia that likely made their way to the United States in the early 1900s on imported plants or in other material on ships.
"Forestry-wise, I would say it is disastrous," Fish said.
He explained that the problem has become much more apparent within the past five years because an increasing number of people are finding amynthas worms. New research reveals some of the potential threats they pose to industries that rely on New England forests.
"They have been identified as a problem across the whole Northeast," Fish said.
The worms present a particular risk to Vermont maple trees used to make syrup, as well as trees used for wood products like ash, according to Fish.
The worms threaten trees in New England because they feed on decomposing leaf litter found in forests that trees use for nutrients and can expose tree roots as they spread.
Amynthas worms are also distinct from earthworms or nightcrawlers in at least two key ways.
One is that they have a band, called a clitellum, that is a brighter white color than those other two worm species and is more level with the rest of the worms' body.
Another way to identify jumping worms is by their more rapid pattern of movement, from which their various names are derived.
"They can even ball up together like snakes do," said Fish.
To figure out if amynthas worms are in your garden or yard, you can pour a mix of dry mustard and water on the ground. It irritates various types of worms, which pushes them to come up to the surface.
According to Fish, if you see a fast-moving worm with a paler, more-complete band on it that is not raised above the worm's body, that creature is likely a jumping worm.
It is possible to kill these worms by dousing them in soapy water.
However, Fish explained that there "are not any good management methods" to kill off jumping worms in large numbers.
The key to slowing their spread and protecting New England's forests, he said, is to prevent the cocoons from which the worms hatch from spreading.
"It's really people that move them around," Fish said, adding that anyone trying to avoid moving jumping worm cocoons around should wash plants bought at local sales down to their bare roots and replant them in "commercial potting material."
They can also refrain from sharing compost with neighbors and make sure any homemade compost remains on site.
Fish also noted that anglers who fish with worms should avoid dumping them, especially in the woods, in case jumping worms find their way into bait.