An invasive juvenile Crazy worm, a type of earthworm native to East Asia, as seen in June after it was found in a woodchip pile at the Topsham transfer station. Mature Crazy worms have a smooth, milky white band. Photo by Raija Suomela

TOPSHAM — Topsham’s solid waste director is working to destroy an invasive species of earthworm called crazy worms that were discovered in a woodchip pile at the town’s transfer station early this summer.

The worms have the potential to damage local forests.

Crazy worms are a type of earthworm native to East Asia, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s horticulture program. The worms are native to Korea and Japan, and are now found in the United States from Maine to South Carolina and west to Wisconsin.

According to the state’s crazy worm website, the worms jump and thrash about and may shed their tail when handled. They also have a milky white, smooth band around their bodies and leave behind soil that looks like coffee grounds.

Raija Suomela, a member of Topsham’s Conservation Commission, said she found the suspect worms in the pile of woodchips at the transfer station on Townsend Way in June and contacted the state, which later confirmed they were crazy worms.

The woodchips are ground from brush and wood Topsham residents drop at the transfer station. The concern, Suomela, said, is that residents who have taken woodchips home over the summer may have unwittingly spread the worms.

Maine Horticulturist Gary Fish said the state took samples of the immature worms from the pile, which had to mature and become reproductive in order to identify them as crazy worms. The state recommended last month that the town compost the woodchips at 105 to 112 degrees to kill the young and adult worms, Fish said.

Ed Caron, the town’s solid waste director, said Monday he continues to compost the woodchips and will work with the state to make sure the worms are destroyed.

Caron said residents will no longer be able to take woodchips home. He is also no longer accepting ground woodchips from commercial chippers as an added precaution.

Fish said crazy worms are not regulated in Maine but are a concern in a number of states across the country because they can have a significant impact on forest health. He praised Topsham for its work to stop the spread of the worms.

“Basically, they consume all of the (debris) on the forest floor so that it makes it basically a desert underneath there where things won’t grow and roots start to be exposed,” Fish said of the worms.

The state is most concerned that people may move materials around that are contaminated with the worms, and that they will be moved into forests where they could do the most ecological damage, especially in hardwood forests.

Fish said crazy worms were first identified in Maine back in the early 1900s, but only in greenhouses. An established population was found in 2014 and it’s only been in the past four years that the state had tried to raise awareness about the pests and encourage people to report them. Residents can visit the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s website to learn more about crazy worms and how to identify them.

“We’re quite certain they’re quite widespread, especially in urban areas,” Fish said.

For residents who may have crazy worms on their property, they shouldn’t share plants with people or move leaf debris or other materials from their property to other properties, Fish said.

Suomela said while the state can’t make the worms go away now that they’re here, “it’s most important to educate and also prevent as much as you can the spreading just to slow it down.”

 


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