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The Alabama Jumper worm, or Amynthus gracilus, is a somewhat newcomer to vermicomposting on this side of the world. They are actually native to Asia. There are a few key differences when vermicomposting with jumpers compared to red wigglers and other nightcrawlers that you may be familiar with.
If you take these differences into account, jumpers can be used to take care of leaves and grass clippings in your yard, turning plant waste into useful worm castings.
The first step to identify Alabama Jumpers is to look at the size. Alabama Jumpers are about the width of your average pencil and maybe a little bit longer when fully grown. The saddle, or clitellum, will be a milky white color and will also be flush with the rest of the body of the jumper. They also have an iridescent sheen to them, but they are colored very differently from the smaller and thinner Indian Blues and the purple color of an African Nightcrawler.
When moving, the jumper has a more acute-angled, thinner-looking head. Male and female pores are difficult to pick out, if even possible. The rest of the body can be a pale red to ruddy red color. The tail end is not flattened out, further distinguishing it from the Canadian Nightcrawler.
One of the biggest clues to identifying them is to watch how they react when disturbed. Movement of the Alabama jumper is very distinctive. Unlike the more familiar Red Wiggler, the jumper seems to have three kinds of locomotion, depending on how threatened it feels.
If it does not feel threatened, it will move similarly to other worm species, extending its body forward in segments, then drawing the tail end up, before again extending forward with the front part of the body.
If if feels somewhat threatened or is escaping sunlight, it may slither back and forth quickly, very similar to how a snake might move. They have surprised me many times when I find one unexpectedly, and it darts away like a garter or black racer. The fact that they are fairly large for worms simply adds to this effect.
When they feel very threatened, they will flip back and forth rapidly, similar to how an Indian Blue worm will move when disturbed. They are very hard to hold when this happens, which can make them difficult to hook for fishing. While the worms are very strong, they do tear apart rather easily.
The video below shows the various ways these very active worms move around.
Alabama jumpers are a tropical and sub-tropical worm. They enjoy temperatures above 60°F, really coming into their own at 70–80°F. Still, place your bin in the shade, as direct light will damage them. Keep the bin moist as well. Unlike most composting worms, which live in bedding, jumpers prefer soil and burrow deep into the earth, if necessary, to escape predators or cold temperatures.
This makes them somewhat unsuitable for a flow-through style bin, as they may burrow right down to the exit, and too much soil slows down other worm species. That said, I do find jumpers in my flow-through bins at times. I simply relocate them to my regular bins.
'Bama jumpers are actually from the other side of the world. Native to Asia, these composting worms behave quite differently from the worms native the the U.S. and Europe. They are considered an invasive species and are spreading quite rapidly. In my area (USDA 9B), I find them more often than any other kind of worm.
There are concerns that they are going to push out the native species. An Alabama Jumper eats about half of its body weight per day, mostly in leaf debris.
Due to their strong muscles and survival instincts, they may be more likely to escape from predators compared to native populations.
Alabama Jumpers normally eat leaf debris. The big concern about them is that they may eat leaf debris at a much faster rate than other worms and reproduce quicker as well. This puts pressure on the overall food supply for the varying worm populations and may lead to a decline in the native worm population.
There are a few ways to attempt to catch jumpers so that you can start utilizing them for vermicomposting. Simply leaving a pile of leaf debris over soil will start to attract them to the food source. That being said, it may make collecting them difficult, because they are so fast.
Another suggestion would be to lay a piece of moist corrugated cardboard down to see if it will attract them. They will flee quite quickly and are easily harmed.
The best option I have found, however, has been to take a plastic plant pot with holes in the bottom and fill it with a mixture of moist soil and old leaf debris. Place the pot in a cool and shady area in your backyard. The longer you leave this trap, the more likely you will find some jumpers.
After a week or two, dump the pot into a larger container to spread out the soil and leaf mixture. The jumpers will start moving around, attempting to escape, but the larger container will prevent them, allowing you to find them and pick them up easily.
Using a cupped or loosely closed hand, as opposed to pinched fingers, will reduce your likelihood of harming them if they begin to flail about.