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"Really rather disturbing to see:" Jumping worms discovered in Ozaukee County

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OZAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- They wriggle and move more like snakes than earthworms. They're jumping worms and some gardening groups already stopped swapping plants because of them.

The Ozaukee County Master Gardeners have for years had their big annual plant sale. This time around, it was at Concordia. The difference though, in 2018, is that plants grown in local gardens weren't allowed. That's because, they say, just one worm born from a tiny two-millimeter cocoon can be the start of a major infestation. 

Mary Reilly-Kliss says her yard's layout is constantly being scrutinized and she's taking the threat of jumping worms seriously along with her fellow Ozaukee County Master Gardeners.

"In fact, my sister-in-law who lives in Rock County got some worms in a plant that she bought at a garden center and when she was working in her garden this spring, she turned over some soil and there they were, jumping at her," said Mary Reilly-Kliss.

Zannah Crowe is the Educational Horticulturist at Johnson's Gardens. She says the worms are from Asia and were once favored as bait because of their movement.

"If you touch them, they jump and squirm or snake worms they're sometimes called. They're really rather disturbing to see. They just have a different life-cycle and they have a different way of feeding that turns out to be very destructive to our natural environment," said Crowe.

"It would look like you'd actually poured coffee grounds on top because what they do is they go through and eat all the leaf litter," said Reilly-Kliss.

"I was always one to go around and buy plants from people when they were having yard sales or a couple of people in the county have big sales at their farms or by the lake. I didn't go because I think it's too dangerous."

The DNR says people should handle this threat the same way they treat zebra mussel cleanings. Get the mud off your shoes and out of your tire treads before heading to a new area.

If you find them, the DNR suggests destroying them.

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