A wet Summer in Texas is driving an invasion of hammerhead flatworms. According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute there have been hundreds of the worms reported in recent days, primarily in Southeastern Texas. Should you happen to find a hammerhead flatworm, the Institute has a warning for you: whatever you do, don’t cut it in half. If you do make that mistake, you can expect to find two hammerheads before long.
Invasive flatworms threaten Texas ecosystem
The hammerhead flatworm, which is classed as an invasive species in Texas, can grow to be nearly a foot in length. The name comes from the fact that their heads resemble those of hammerhead sharks.
Like most invasive species, the hammerhead flatworm can be extremely dangerous to the health of the invaded ecosystem. In this case the environmental harm comes from their preying on earthworms. A dearth of earthworms can do catastrophic damage to the affected habitat.
This is far from the only reason to be concerned about the invading flatworms. To digest their prey they create a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which can poison pets if eaten and irritate skin if touched.
Worse still, the invasive worms are likely to spread dangerous parasites to humans who handle them without gloves and to other mammals that come into contact with them.
If all of this is not enough to make the hammerhead flatworm seem particularly nasty then their hydra-like ability to multiply should do the trick.
These worms are hermaphrodites and reproduce through fragmentation. When one section breaks off it will within ten days begin to form a new head and become a fully autonomous individual.
Hammerhead flatworm can form new heads
While the hammerhead flatworm may do this several times a month, human intervention can greatly expedite the process if they are not killed properly.
Attempting to kill one of the worms by stepping on it or crushing it with something will only produce more of the worms, potentially many more, as each individual fragment is able to regenerate and form a new head.
Fortunately there is a way to kill the invasive worms. Taking care to use gloves and not expose any skin to the flatworm, they can be placed in a sealed plastic bag.
Once locked securely in the bag , the worms can be killed in one of several ways. Citrus oil and salt or citrus oil and vinegar are the most effective methods. Vinegar alone can work if it is applied directly to the body of the flatworm.
Alternatively, the bag which is to imprison the flatworm can be filled with a combination of salt and vinegar and then left to freeze overnight. Hands should be washed thoroughly after any contact with a flatworm, even if gloves were used.
To track the extent of the hammerhead flatworm, the Texas Invasive Species Institute requests that anyone who finds one contact them with a photo and location after it has been properly disposed of.