Amynthas agrestis: The Crazy Snake Worm

Crazy Snake Worm (Amynthas agrestis) in the wood mulch of a horticultural bed at a tree nursery in Vermont.

Figure A. 1 Crazy Snake Worm (Amynthas agrestis) in the wood mulch of a horticultural bed at a tree nursery in Vermont. Checkout the white ring around the worms body. In Amynthas species it stretches all around the  body and it is well off-set from the rest of the body.

The Crazy Snake Worm (Amynthas agrestis, Figure A1) is an aggressively invasive earthworm that hails from Korea and Japan. Most earthworm species found in Vermont have probably come into North America by early colonial trading with Europe. These  worms are in the family of Lumbricidae. The new invaders are from East Asia and are in the earthworm family Megascolecidae. There are several Amynthas species in the North East. These species are usually called Jumper worms (Alabama Jumpers), Wrigglers (Jersey Wrigglers) or Snake Worms. It is difficult to differentiate among these species by looking at their external appearance. One needs to look at the internal organs of these worms to tell which species they are. The only Amynthas species found in Vermont to this date are Amynthas agrestis.

These worms are very aggressive invaders that change forest structure and the

Forest on left is earthworm free. The one on the right is invaded by Amynthas agrestis. Dear may make the situation worse by browsing on whatever is still there after the earthworms have done their damage.

Figure A2: Forest on left is earthworm free. The one on the right is invaded by Amynthas agrestis. Deer may make the situation worse by browsing on tree seedlings because earthworms have reduced browse in the forest understory.

decomposer community in the affected forests. This may have long range effects on these forests (Figure A2) including a reduction in forest regeneration. Just imagine a world without maple syrup … Because of the devastating effect on the forest floor vegetation, some other organisms such as ground nesting birds are affected as their nests are no longer hidden from nest predators. Our lab is trying to find where these earthworms are in Vermont although we frequently stumble upon them by chance. The range of this earthworm in Vermont as we know is shown in Figure A3. We ask for your help to find as many places that have been invaded as possible: if you have seen them at your house or a forest near you let us know

Known distribution of Amynthas in Vermont

Figure A3: Known distribution of Amynthas in Vermont

by adding a blog comment which should include an address or the coordinates of where you have seen them. At your home look at mulched flower beds, compost piles, and adjacent woods. Other places where you might find them are nurseries and mulched beds in your local park, community garden and parking lot. I found them in the oddest places. For example, they were happily snaking around in mulched beds of a parking lot in Colchester and the ornamental beds of the Williston I89S rest stop. And yes, I have them  at my house too and curse them every time I buy more mulch for my ornamental beds. They love mulch and go through it as though there was not tomorrow. Eventually you get wise and stop feeding them that mulch. Yes, they can decompose woody mulch. They stimulate the production of lignin decomposing enzymes (Figure A4). You even see them in decomposing logs.

perioxidaseimage

Figure A4: Peroxidase ( a lignin decomposing enzyme) activity in Pine (P), Spruce (S) and Cedar (C) mulch with A. agrestis (dark bars) and without A. agrestis (lighter bars).

Here is when to look for them: The best time to find them is from end of June to mid-October (Figure A5). That is when they are most abundant. They hatch in April around these parts when temperatures have risen above 50 F for the first time but you won’t be able to see their tell-tale saddle or clitellum that stretches all the way around the circumference of their body (Figure A1) until they are adults. You can tell them even when they are still juveniles and don’t have that saddle. They tend to squirm a lot, move like snakes and sometimes lose their tails in an attempt to get away from you.

AmynthasPhenology

Figure A5: Amynthas agrestis through the year. They hatch in April and die with the first frosts in Autumn. The first adults are seen in July.

The following link has a video of the Crazy Snake Worm slithering around mulch in a podcast by Vermont Public Radio PR on earthworms in Vermont in general:

http://digital.vpr.net/post/dark-side-earthworms

April 7 and 8, 2014: Last week we collected temperature data at the horticultural Research Center (University of Vermont) in South Burlington. Soil temperatures stayed at or below 0 C from January 25 to April 1, 2014 (blue line, Figure A6) even though there were large swings in ambient temperature (red line). This was probably due to snow cover. Unlike in other years, the soil was frozen. Ice reached to a depth of approximately 4 cm.

temperaturetilll April12014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 8, 2014. We went to an Amynthas-invaded forest site in Huntington where, to our surprise, we found  a lot of potential hatchlings which are now being incubated in the lab at 15 C. We found them in the leaf litter both under snow and patches where the snow had already melted. Soils were still frozen and temperatures in the leaf litter were 4 C and under the snow 1 C. Ambient temperatures at 2:30 pm were 9 C. The suspected hatchlings were in water films on and between leaves. Pictures below shows Korkmaz Belliturk and Josef Gorres at Huntington today (picture credit: Naomi Cunningham).

DSCN1774DSCN1787

February 12, 2014. We counted the hatchlings from Huntington. We found 111 potential hatchlings on leaves collected from 6 quadrats that were 20 by 20 cm in size. That translates into approximately 400 hatchlings per square meter or 40 per square foot. Since collection of these hatchlings they have been growing in the cool temperature incubator. On February 10 we surveyed the invasion site at the Horticultural Research Center at UVM. We only found 1 potential hatchling in 5 plots of 30 cm X 30 cm area. This site was dryer than Huntington.

23 thoughts on “Amynthas agrestis: The Crazy Snake Worm

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  4. I sighted of which I believe to be a (Amynthas Agretis) Snake Worm. I had never seen such an aggreseve animal resembling a night crawler! It was wrigling down a hot sidewalk at probably in access of 110 degree F if not more. I attempted to pick it up, to help it back into the grass. To my surprise! It quickly sprang from beneath my finger at a high pace or wrigle! It took off down the hot sidewalk! WOW! I had to check this wild little creature out. For sure! Not a night crawler, or what I know as a common earth worm.
    I cautiously fallowed, and observed. It had no apparent head, so I assumed it was not going to bite me, so I attempted to pick it up again. It jumped! It wriggled frantically! It fled away couple more times. Finally got hold of it! It was so strong I could hardly keep it between my thumb and index finger. I quickly pitched it into the grass lawn along the sidwalk! It just as quickly vertically vanished into the lawn.
    This observation, was in Escondido, California at the corner of Ash st. & Valley Parkway. That little critter really got my curiousity up! WOW ÷).???

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  15. Hi Josef ~

    Any updates on the growth of the worms since your note of May 3rd?

    We now have people who say that they have seen A. agrestis in various communities in our area in the past, but I don’t know how they determine the genus and species, so more research is indicated.

    Best wishes,

    John

  16. Dear John,

    Those are really good questions. I am incubating some juvenile earthworms found at a site with Amynthas agrestis that are very small (2 cm) to see what they really are. If these are A. agrestis then you can forget the 50 F figure because we found them in meltwater between leaves. The temperature there was 38 – 40 C.

    Good question too about whether these earthworms die when it gets colder. May be the juveniles have other defenses against the cold, maybe some salts in their bodies that depress the freezing points. Just a speculation, no fact about it at all.

    I will know more when the incubations are successful and I can identify these earthworms. Lets see maybe in three weeks we will know more.

    Josef

  17. For the crazy worm to hatch, does it just need to get above 50 sometime during the day, or is there a certain number of hours for which 50 degrees needs to be exceeded?

    Also, what happens if, it say, gets to 60, but two days later, it gets down to, say 26? Do the hatched worms die? We have 5 days in a row above 60 and then 3 days in a row where the highs/lows were 42/26, 37/18 and 52/27.

    Thanks much,

    John

  18. HI Sandy,
    I am going to conduct some experiments with a fertilizer that contains some saponins that have been detrimental to other earthworms. I wonder whether this product is going to be effective on the crazy snake worm.

    I let you know if it works. I have to wait a couple of months before I try that control strategy cause they are just hatching now. Temperatures are spiking about 10 C (50 F) which appears to be the trigger temperature for them. It could be that soils need a few days longer to reach that temperature after the atmospheric temperature goes beyond 10 C. When they first hatch they are very small thread like creatures. Difficult to find. So we wait for the experiment till they are 3 to 6 cm long ( 1- 2 inches).

    I keep you in the loop.

  19. I live in the Redstone Quarry section of Burlington. Last year I put a lot of mulch in my raspberry patch and that is where I have most noticed them. After reading your article, I will remove the mulch and try to remove the eggs as soon as I can this spring.

  20. Hi Sandy,

    Do you remember where in your yard you saw them. Which part of Burlington do you live in? Burlington is riddled by these earthworms. I find them in many places… Thanks for your comment.

  21. I first noticed these worms in my garden two summers ago. I am very afraid of snakes and noticed that these “night crawler” sized worms were acting like snakes. My friends at first thought I was just being paranoid but then they saw them. They tend to hang out in taller grass or as your article mentions, mulched areas. I would like to try to get rid of them but will probably need to enlist friends who don’t have my fear. If there is something else that I can do, please let me know. I live in Burlington, VT.

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