A slimy, carnivorous, toxic, immortal worm sounds like something from a science fiction movie, or out of your nightmares, but it is real.
Don’t worry though the hammerhead worm is more hype than harm.
Chris Carlton, PhD, Director Emeritus at the LSU Ag Center said, “they’re not dangerous. They’re unusual and kind of strange, and they gross people out because they’re slimy. But that’s about it.”
The worm species is prevalent in the south and has made a home in Louisiana. Though you shouldn’t fear them, it doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous, especially if you’re an earthworm.
“They are predators,” Carlton said.
These worms have numerous names most commonly called a hammerhead flatworm to shoveled worm, due to their shape. These long squiggly worms have flat heads the plunge out either side and can reach up to a foot long.
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“The Hammerhead worms are part of a large group of flatworms that belong to the particular file of organisms,” Carlton said. “These terrestrial flatworms belong to a particular family. In North America, there’s probably five or six.”
Carlton continued to say that Louisiana has more than one of these groups of flatworms. The most common is Bipalium kewense which originated in the botanical gardens of the United Kingdom.
These invasive species are native to Southeast Asia, and have an affinity to hot, humid locations such as the southern United States region.
Much like slugs, these worms are active at night and after rain when the soil is moist. They can be found underneath leaves and in dark areas.
“These big terrestrial flatworms crawl around, they live in moist places. You find them typically under compost or under boards,” Carlton said. “They’re quite interesting.”
Why is the hammerhead worm so important?
The biggest threat of the hammerhead worm is that it kills the good worms.
Hammerhead worms eat slugs, insects, snails and earthworms.
The earthworm is important in the underground scene because of its role in the decomposition of organic matters, increased soil aeration, water movement and plant growth.
“These things have a small ecological impact on the things that they’re feeding on. In the case of this common one that feeds on earthworms, most of the earthworms that we have in Louisiana are actually introduced as well. So you have a situation where you have an introduced predator feeding on introduced earthworms. So, the net impact on the environment is probably zero,” Carlton said.
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“They sort of wrap themselves around them (insects), and they digest them from the inside out and they basically drink the digested organism like a Slurpee,” Carlton said.
A hammerhead worm’s mouth is on the underside of the worm. So, when it attaches itself to the prey it produces an enzyme and toxin that immobilizes the creature and dissolves the creature.
Carlton said, “it simply dissolves it and makes it almost a liquid.”
What happens if you touch a hammerhead worm?
Carlton explained, “If you did come in contact with one, you should wash your hands because they do produce a toxin. It doesn’t affect people that just touch them. You wouldn’t want to eat one, because they do in fact produce a poison that they use in predation.”
How do you kill a hammerhead worm?
If you plan to kill this worm think twice before attempting to cutting it up. It will regrow whatever part it needs. Cut it into four pieces, you’ll have four new worms.
The best way to kill this worm is by sprinkling salt or vinegar on it.
Makenzie Boucher is a reporter with the Shreveport Times. Contact her at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Shreveport Times: The hammerhead worm is not a hoax, and it’s in Louisiana