BURLINGTON — As if the stewards of Vermont forests don’t have enough to worry about with the impending threat of climate change and invasive species such as the emerald ash borer, and Asian long-horned beetles, among others, there is also a new menace in the form of amynthas agrestis, also known as the Crazy Snake Worm. These unappealing invaders from East Asia are in the earthworm family, but they are not members in good standing.
According to Josef Gorres, Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Vermont, these worms are “very aggressive invaders that change forest structure and the decomposer community in the affected forests…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 arena longer hidden from nest predators.”
Gorres recently told the Burlington Free Press that if this invasion persists, “in 100 years’ time, you’re going to have a very different kind of forest.”
In 2014 Gorres and a group of researchers found 111 potential hatchings of Snake Worms in Huntington, in leaf litter under the snow.
Crazy snake worms don’t appear to be very different from regular earthworms, but their behavior can be alarming. Their movements are snake-like, and they will shed their tails to escape humans. In direct sunlight they appear iridescent, and purplish. When disturbed, the worms can thrash around, and come right up off the ground, according to Jim Labonte, taxonomic entomologist at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, who is also worried about the forests of the Pacific northwest.
Vermonters can learn more about the alarming advance of the Crazy Snake Worm at Professor Gorres’s speech entitled “Snake Worms – Not Your Grandparents’ Earthworm: How Japanese Earthworms Change Vermont Forests” at the Faith United Methodist Church in South Burlington on April 25, at 1:00 p.m. The speech is sponsored by the Burlington Garden Club and is free and open to the public.