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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Alien Worms Invade Portsmouth, Ohio

"Worms Trouble Portsmouth Neighborhood"

-Frank Lewis, Portsmouth Daily Times, June 13, 2012

Of course, when I first read the headline in the Times, I had to chuckle. After reading the report and doing some online research, I'm not laughing anymore.

Lewis said, "The people at the upper end of Mabert Road (2500 block) in Portsmouth are going through what can only be described as a living nightmare, and have not been able to find anyone who will help them. Worms have taken over not only their streets, steps, yards, porches, and the outside of their houses, but the inside as well."

One resident, Mike Sutherland, has even had to share a shower with the worms.

According to Sutherland,
“It’s an invasion, like an apocalypse.”

Residents like Mary Lucas, Patty Schuyler, and Latisha Reedy said the worms have been taking over Mabert Road property for two or three weeks now. The worms are even coming inside homes.They have swarms of worms in their bedrooms, in their living rooms, in their kitchens and everywhere.

The homeowners have sprayed bleach on the creatures and called the City Health Department and the Ohio State University Extension Service for help. But, still the worms keep invading.

We Are Being Invaded By Aliens

According to Ohio blogger Michelle the time has come to expose earthworms for what they really are: alien invaders. Non-native Earthworm species have been introduced into the United States through foreign trade shipments and other means. A tide of exotic earthworms rolls in to the United States every year, meeting the demand of fishermen and gardeners. Canada exports around $20 million worth annually.

Michelle says in some farm areas, nitrates are getting into the groundwater via the tunnels of exotic worms. Alien invasions have occurred in tallgrass prairie, Southern grassland and along riverbanks in the Midwest. In the Pacific Northwest, aliens take over forest land that has been clear-cut. ("Earthworms are Invading NE Ohio? What Is All of This DUFF About?"

Smithsonian Magazine reports in addition to the European species of earthworms invading across the region, several Asian species of earthworms (in the genus “Amynthas”) are quite widespread on the east coast, but are only now beginning to spread across most of the Great Lakes Region. They are commonly found in compost and leave mulch because they are very good composting worms. However, they have great potential for very destructive impacts in native forests as well as some gardens. (Adele Conover, "Foreign Worm Alert," Smithsonian Magazine, August 2000)

Amynthas has been implicated in the die-off of garden plants in several areas where they were accidentally introduced with a load of mulch brought to the site. If you see an earthworm like this, the Great Lakes Worm Watch wants to know.

Here is their address:

The Worm Watch offers these keys to Amynthas identification:

Key differences:

Setae: European 8 arranged around the setae, Asian bristle like, very distinctive
Clitellum: European saddle-shaped – Asian annular

The bristle-like setae pattern and wild behavior associated with this genus make it easy to identify. It gets its common name from the way it can “jump” around, in a very unworm-like way.

Worms Employ Weapons of Mass Destruction

Why are the earthworms a weapon of mass destruction? It's all about duff. Duff is the natural leafy layer on the forest floor usually about 4” in depth and made from the decomposition and addition of leaves and twigs. Usually this layer breaks down slowly which allows accumulation and a constant depth. Our forests do not survive or thrive without this layer. The duff is valuable for its beneficial bacterial and fungal content, not to mention the microclimate it creates for the forest and its inhabitants.

These invading Earthworm species are veracious eaters and duff is their meal of choice. So, the alien worms are invading our forests; eating our entire duff layer and leaving a pile of ...well... you know what... behind. ("Earthworms are Invading NE Ohio? What Is All of This DUFF About?"

Humans Fight Back

Patrick Bohlen of the Archbold Biological Station in Florida says, "Electroshocking or poison are out because we'd zap everything else."

We could reintroduce grizzly bears -- who apparently savor earthworms -- but the folks on Mabert probably wouldn't appreciate that trade off, especially since the worms have already come inside their homes.

Hiring Canadian worm pickers might make a dent. As I well know after making a couple of fishing trips to Ontario, earthworms are in high demand as bait. It's hard to find even a small patch of rich soil in the rocky landscape of Canadian bays and lakes. By the way, the first time we took dozens of earthworms to Canada on a fishing trip we made the mistake of leaving our bait in containers on the deck of our cabin overnight. We awake after the first night to find that raccoons also love to dine on the worms. The result? Not one worm was left for the rest of the week-long trip.

It is reported that skilled worm workers boast a nightly average of 6,000, and that doesn't take into account the legendary picker who once scored a 22,500-worm night. Hiring foreign labor, however, might open another can of worms (sorry, the pun is too easy) with our own local worm pickers. I used to see carloads of them in the bottoms on Rt. 23 just north of town across from the old Club Franklin. It seems they would love to help exterminate and not to have to dig all day for their profits.

We could, of course, all help out and head to Mabert Road for a diet of worms. Through archaeological research on American Indians, scientists have learned that Native Americans dried and stored earthworms for winter use. Some smoked them. Usually the worms were either put in water so they would offload gut dirt or they were fed other stuff to get rid of the dirt and make them tastier.

And, in fact, earthworms are 82% protein and virtually nothing is thrown away. Eating them reduces cholesterol as their main oil is Omega 3 fatty acid, the same stuff found in fatty fish. The earthy flavor of the worms blends well with certain dishes and spices… think cumin and curry.

You are on your own if you want to cook up some worms, but here is a site the features recipes for dishes like deep-fried earthworms, earthworm patties, earthworm meatloaf, and even caramel worm brownies. "Eat the Weeds and Other Things:

"Nobody loves me, everybody hates me
Think I'll go and eat worms
Long ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones
See how they wriggle and squirm

"I bite off the heads, and suck out the juice
And throw the skins away
Nobody knows how fat I grow
On worms three times a day
Ohh...nobody loves me."

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