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I don’t admit this at parties, but since you’re here, I can tell you, and maybe it won’t seem weird. I’m really into worms. Or at least, worm composting and using them to improve my soil.
So when a new worm species comes on my radar, I’m all about it. I usually have to add to my already considerable collection of worm bins and either find or get some worms to start a colony.
Alabama Jumpers were one of the latest worms that came up and made me want to see what they’re all about. However, raising Alabama Jumpers wasn’t quite the walk in the park than I expected. The main reason for this is that I also love the earth. Raising a detrimental or invasive worm species is not something I’m interested in, no matter how fast they can eat leaves.
While led me, of course, down a research rabbit hole. Should we be raising Alabama Jumpers? Or maybe we should be stomping them out of existence? Or maybe, they are a fine worm that has little to no value for composting, gardening, or even fishing. I had to know.
Alabama Jumpers Overview
If you’ve grown up in North America, you might never have seen an Alabama Jumper (Amynthas agrestis). Jumpers are native to Asia (Japan and the Korean Peninsula to be exact) and have only recently started eating their way through other countries. Many people refer to them as “crazy worms, snake worms, Georgia Jumpers” and many other nicknames.
But, since worms don’t come when called, how will you know one when you see it?
Recognizing Alabama Jumpers
Recognizing jumpers are is a much easier task than you might expect. If you’re used to seeing nightcrawlers or wigglers, you’ll probably notice some immediate differences:
|Size||Large (for garden worms). They are typically about the thickness of a pencil (around 1/4″) and can grow 6-9″ in length.|
|Coloring||Jumpers are typically red although the shade may vary from pale to dark. The saddle (clitellum) is typically a pale almost milky color that contrasts with the body.|
|Distinctive Markings||The anterior (head) section is typically angled and tapers to a point. The tail end is not round, not flat like nightcrawlers. One of the most distinctive distinguishing factors is the sheen of their skin which borders on metallic.|
|Movement||If they are unstartled, jumpers typically inch along similar to most worms but are also known to slither side to side like a snake (hence one of their nicknames). When startled, they thrash around, nearly “jumping” out of your hand, and can be difficult to hold.|
Alabama Jumpers prefer warm, wet soil and are most at home in the south half of the United States. They tend to burrow deep in the soil leaving behind casting and tunnels that are beneficial for plants as they boost soil nutrition, drainage, etc.
How To Raise Alabama Jumpers
If you’ve looked into buying Alabama Jumpers you’ve noticed how expensive they can be. Although they are voracious eaters and breeders, many people struggle to raise them in commercial quantities, driving up the price.
However, they are typically fairly easy to gather and do well in a closed worm system (not a pass-through). So, if you’re set on raising them, here are a few tips on how to go about it. I’m assuming you’re already familiar with worm-breeding or vermicomposting so this isn’t mean to be an exhaustive list, simply some things to be aware of that might be different from something like red wigglers:
- Many worms tend to hang out in the top layers of soil or bedding. Alabama Jumpers, on the other hand, prefer to tunnel deep into the soil (typically to escape cold and predators). If you put them in a system with an open bottom, you can bet they won’t stick around for long.
- Jumpers are from a sub-tropical climate and prefer moist dirt and temperatures in the 70 to 80-degree range Keep your bin warm but out of any direct sun as it can damage the worms.
- Jumpers typically consume beds of leaf litter (aka “duff“) and need a steady quantity of food.
- While they breed well, Alabama Jumpers are not epigeic worms and do not seem to form colonies. If your bin becomes overpopulated they will either start dying off or do their best to escape.
In general, Alabama Jumpers are not great vermicomposting worms and many people raise them for fishing or to release into their gardens. Because of the ease of gathering them (in many areas), I have reverted to gathering them, breeding them, and using them instead of trying to get them to eat my kitchen scraps.
How To Gather Alabama Jumpers: 2 Methods
#1. Look Under Things (Very Complex…)
Look under things and see if there are worms under there. If there are, pick them up.
However, it’s easier said than done. You can check under leaf piles, boards, etc., or make your own worm-attractor by laying moist cardboard over dirt and waiting.
The problem with this method is that not only is it hit or miss but Alabama Jumpers are quite difficult to catch. They are extremely fast and often disappear as soon as you see them. If you do manage to catch them, be gentle. Despite being a large and muscular worm they pull apart fairly easily.
#2. Create a Worm Trap
One of the best ways to gather any type of worm is to create a trap. To make one, simply get a pot/bucket/bin and cut some holes in the bottom. I typically make a bunch of 1″ circular holes.
Find the vessel with a mixture of leaves, moist dirt, and other worm-attracting foods. Leave in sitting on dirt for a week or two. When you fun out of patience, pick it up and (gently) dump the dirt into a bin with no holes in the bottom. The worms can then be gathered at your leisure and placed in a bin or farm.
Where to Buy Alabama Jumper Worms
While Alabama Jumpers tend to be more difficult to ship than other (more hardy) worms, there are several places online that sell them.
If you can find them locally, that would be your best bet. Even if no one advertises having them you can post on Craigslist or ask around plant nursery’s and you can typically find someone in your area with some to sell.
If you come up dry locally, try out Worms4Earth as they sell them in quantities up to 5,000 worms.
Are Alabama Jumpers Invasive?
Yes, Alabama Jumpers are invasive to North America. They are native to Asia and have only recently been found in other regions. Not only are they not native, they are destructive worms as they consume the forest floor detritus layer which many animals depend on faster than the forest produces it.
With that being said, all worms in North America are invasive (the Ice Age having killed off all the native ones). Jumpers are just some of the most recent, only showing up only ships carrying plants and dirt-filled pots in the 1800s. The true question, then, is not whether Alabama Jumpers are invasive but whether they are detrimental.
This is obviously a difficult question to answer.
Despite the huge appetite for leaves and propensity to reproduce, it is unlikely that Jumpers will pose a significant problem in much of North American as they only live in Zone 7 and warmer. That’s not to say they’re not a problem though.
There have been many bulletins released about the dangers they cause to habitats and existing worm populations. Not only that, but they may be harmful to your garden. The rate at which they consume organic matter is damaging to small plants which rely on the duff layer both to shield them and hold in moisture.
In my opinion, any invasive species should not be bred or purchased with the intent to populate your area if they are not already present. In fact, in many states, it is illegal to sell, introduce, transport, possess, and/or propagate Alabama Jumpers. So be sure to check your local regulations before ordering or attempting to raise them.
Alabama Jumpers vs Red Wigglers
Apart from their differing shapes and colors, the largest difference between Alabama Jumpers and Red Wigglers is, perhaps, the way they act and what they’re useful for.
Red Wigglers make fantastic composters and pretty good fishing worms. Jumpers, on the other hand, are not the best worms for composting, very good garden worms, and excellent fishing worms!
So, at the end of the day, you’ll have to decide if you want to raise Alabama Jumpers or if they’re a good fit for your garden at all!
They do have some seriously cool skills as well as a significant number of drawbacks. Only time will tell how invasive, destructive or helpful they end up being. Until then, happy composting!