Our field technicians are reporting unusual turf damage this spring due to a new invasive pest in our service area. The pest, an aggressively invasive worm new to Illinois, is identified as Amynthas agrestis, or “crazy snake worm”. The turf damage is being caused by unusually active surface activity accompanied by large quantities of worm castings that resemble small ant hills. Additionally, animals such as raccoons and skunks are digging up large swaths of turf hunting for worms on which to feed causing major damage to lawns at a time when the grass plant is most fragile. According to ecologists at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the species is originally from East Asia, thrives in mulch and decomposing vegetation material, and hatches in the early spring when ground temperatures warm up. Currently, there are no treatments recommended for the management of the crazy snake worm. Education and slowing the spread is the current recommended course of action. The crazy snake worm’s primary means of spread is through the movement of plants with soil. It can also be spread through soil and mulch transfer, and its eggs can be spread on the tread of lawn equipment wheels or shoes. Greenwise can repair the damage to the turf caused by digging animals through spot seeding and lawn repair. We are also looking into organic options to deter the worms and will report our findings once they are available. What are Crazy Snake Worms? Amynthas agrestis, gets its common name, ‘crazy snake worm’, due to its unusual behavior, which is more snake-like than worm-like. These worms will aggressively wiggle and writhe when exposed to air or picked up, and will attempt to slither away. Crazy snake worms had never been found in Illinois prior to 2015 when the invasive worm was first positively identified in DuPage county and by ecologists at the Chicago Botanic Garden. However, the crazy snake worm has been in the United States for many years in many of the southeastern states (and in the Smoky Mountains). In 2013, it was found in Wisconsin. Are They a Cause for Concern? Because it is so new to Illinois, the effects of the worm are not yet fully known. However, ecologists at the Botanic Garden recently issued a “Pest Alert” regarding the worm. Some reasons for concern are:
- They out-compete and push out our common European earthworms;
- They multiply very quickly;
- They devour soil organic matter and drastically change soil structure. This has a huge impact on forest ecosystems as well as on residential and urban ornamental plantings.
- They are found near the soil surface;
- When touched, they respond immediately with a crazy flipping and jumping reaction;
- They have a fast, snake-like movement;
- Unlike a common European earthworm, they have a milky white flat band (clitellum);
- They are 4 to 8 inches long;
- A worm may lose its tail when handled.