Hammerhead Worm Invasion!

The other day Sena and I were talking with a landscaping consultant about a job we’d like done on our backyard patio. He uncovered a worm in the dirt, and it seemed to wriggle energetically. Jumping worms had been in the news a lot last month. The consultant picked it up and the worm seemed to jump out of his hand.

Sena exclaimed, “It’s a jumping worm; kill it!” The consultant picked it up again and, much to our surprise, simply crushed it in his hand. However, he doubted that it was a jumping worm and hinted that much of the news lately about jumping worms (an invasive species from Asia) was overdone.

I don’t know how he got rid of the crushed worm in his fist.

But I suspect he wouldn’t crush a hammerhead worm in his hand (although I wouldn’t bet on it).

They are also being reported in the news recently, although they’ve been in the country for decades and probably longer. They’ve possibly been sighted in Iowa. The hammerhead worm is another invasive species from Southeast Asia. If you cut them up, the pieces will grow into new worms.

They also carry a toxin on their bodies. It won’t kill you or even harm you that much if you get it on your hands, but you should wash up thoroughly if you nonchalantly crush them in your fist.

The hammerhead worms eat earthworms, which could make things even harder for them because jumping worms displace common earthworms by outcompeting them for territory.

Right now, the best way to rid your garden of hammerhead worms is to kill them by sprinkling salt or spraying vinegar on them.

I can’t help wondering if there might be a way to teach hammerhead worms to eat jumping worms.

But then, how would you get rid of the hammerhead worms? They don’t have any natural predators. There are a number of ways humans can control the population in their immediate vicinity.

Just don’t crush them in your fist.

Jumping Worms Joke

The jumping worm invasion is the big news these days. This is a follow up to the post I wrote on May 19, 2022. I found this article, “Invasive jumping worms now in 34 states—including Iowa.” It was posted by an Indianola, Iowa outdoorsman named Tom Charlton.

The most interesting thing about this article is the jumping worm joke at the end. I’ll have to do this in stages. First, he prefaces this joke with the one about “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?” And I can’t help but think he’s got a different version than the one I know. He says “Of course, we all know what’s worse than biting into an apple and finding half a worm.”

I don’t know what would be worse than finding half a worm. In fact, this actually happened to me. I was a young man living at the YMCA in Mason City, Iowa. That was back in the days when you could rent a single occupancy sleeping room there on the cheap. There was an old snack vending machine there and I got a Butterfinger. I bit into it and found—half of some kind of little worm. Spoiler Alert: the worm half was doing something typical for worms. The answer is below.

By the way, that Mason City YMCA was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 2002 and has been renovated into the River City Apartments, a low-income housing resource. I don’t know if it still has snack vending machines.

I also can’t think of anything worse than finding half a worm. One worm joke site says “Two worms.” Somehow, it doesn’t have the zing of the “half a worm” version.

I thought the joke (which has been found in print since 1911) went more like: “What could be worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm in it?” The punchline is “finding half a worm in it.”

In the next sentence, Mr. Charlton writes: “…but do you know why the young boy thought the jumping worm would taste like chewing gum?”

I really didn’t get this. I googled it and couldn’t find anything about it. Then my wife, Sena, did a web search on Bing and solved the riddle immediately. She gave me a hint which helped: think of a brand of gum.

It’s actually an old worm joke. It’s very similar to Mr. Charlton’s joke, except it leaves out the word “jumping.” Think of a brand of chewing gum and you’ll get it. It’s not Trident.

The punchline is “Because they’re Wrigleys.” I got sidetracked into overthinking it because it was about jumping worms.

That should have made coming up with the punchline easier. Thank you, Mr. Charlton!

Jumping Worms are Making Iowans Jumpy

Well, the jumping worms are making Iowans jumpy lately, even though the critters have been reported around here since at least 2018 by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship. All of a sudden, they’re alien invaders, slithering like snakes and jumping into your gardens.

Iowa State University wants us to take pictures of every jumping worm we see, so you have your cameras ready. They’re as popular as aliens from distant galaxies, but said to be far more destructive of the land, gorging themselves on leaf litter, and according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture,“…exposing the land to compaction, increased water runoff, erosion, and clears the way for invasive plants to take root on the newly cleared soil. This results in less diversity of native plants, and thus less diversity of animals.”

They thrash around and look pretty mad. There’s even a YouTube video of them whipping around in a frenzy.

I wonder if we could control them with Canadian Geese. They eat earthworms. I don’t know for sure if they eat jumping worms, but I don’t see why not.

There are a couple of problems with using geese, though. They hiss like snakes when you get too close to their young. Their long necks even remind me of snakes. And they like to spread their poop all over sidewalks and driveways.  

Maybe the jumping worms would be great for fishing. They’d whip around in the water so wildly they’d be sure to attract any hungry fish.

Here’s something ironic. Maybe we could use the jumping worms to catch snakehead fish, which is another invasive species. Catch the snakehead with snake worms and serve the snakeheads for dinner. Yum. I’ll have an egg salad sandwich, please.

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