Invasive Foot-Long Flat Worms Emerging In Texas; “Don’t Cut Them In Half”

Jennifer Serfass/Debbie Meyers-Shock/Facebook

Heavy rainfall in Texas is causing an unusual species of worm to surface and experts are encouraging people who find them not to try to kill them by cutting them in half.

A Dallas-area resident recently shared a photo of hammerhead flatworms causing a viral response to the glimpse of the unique-looking creatures. The slimy worms can grow to be nearly a foot long and get their name because of their half-moon shaped head.

The flatworms feed on earthworms and are considered an invasive species. In order to digest earthworms, they secrete a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, the same toxin found in pufferfish and blue-ringed octopus. According to Ashley Morgan-Olvera, the director of the Texas Invasive Species Institute, the neurotoxin can cause skin irritation if touched and sicken pets if eaten.

In addition to being toxic, hammerhead flatworms “have the ability to transmit harmful parasites to humans and mammals alike,” Morgan-Olvera said. “All of these reasons are why we do not want you to handle them with bare hands and encourage you to dispose of them from your property.”

So, how is one supposed to dispose of the toxic worm? Experts strongly encourage people to avoid trying to kill the worms as they reproduce via fragmentation.

“[They reproduce] by leaving behind a tail tip stuck to a leaf or other substrate, which then develops into an adult. If the worm is cut into pieces, each section can regenerate into a fully-developed organism within a few weeks. Injured worms rapidly regenerate damaged tissue.”

Morgan-Olvera said that the worms should he handled with gloves and put into sealed bags with salt or vinegar and frozen overnight.

Anyone who finds a hammerhead flatworm is encouraged to report it to the Texas Invasive Species Institute.

Learn more about hammerhead flatworms and see pictures in the video below.

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