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Invasive 'toxic' worms found in Georgia | What to know

Experts said you should get rid of them with a natural-based solution. The worms cause a danger to the native earthworm population.

GEORGIA, USA — A well-known "toxic" worm is making its rounds in Georgia and now experts want residents to know a few details this summer to keep themselves, the friendly earthworm and their plants safe. 

The invasive species called the hammerhead flatworm or hammerhead slug, is native to Vietnam and in the states, first seen in Texas, according to a report from Texas Invasive Species Institute and information from Penn State Extention. 

What Do Hammerhead Flatworms Look Like? 

The Bipalium kewense is a type of terrestrial flatworm with a head shaped like a hammerhead shark but rounded. It's typically light or honey-colored with up to five dark dorsal stripes, with the median stripes being thin, and has an incomplete dark collar. These worm-like creatures can be up to 15 inches long but typically around 8-12 inches long and narrow.

Credit: wxia

How are Hammerhead Flatworms Harmful?

The flatworm is an invasive species and can cause some irritation to humans and also cause problems for the ecosystem. 

To Humans 

Hammerhead flatworms cannot bite or sting, but they secrete a toxic mucus that can cause skin irritation and, in some cases, allergic reactions in humans. So, precautions should be taken if a hammerhead flatworm is encountered. 

If a person comes into contact with a hammerhead flatworm, experts recommend washing hands thoroughly with soap and water and avoiding touching the face or eyes until the hands are cleaned. If handling to remove, experts said to wear gloves. 

Though uncomfortable to hold, the flatworm has not made any pet or human sick from holding or eating them. 

To Crops and Earthworms 

These invasive species eat primarily earthworms, which isn't a good thing for crops since earthworms are good for the soil. For this reason, it's important to avoid releasing them into the wild, as they can disrupt the local ecosystem and potentially harm native species.  

It's also been found that the flatworm itself degrades the soil.

Where do Hammerhead Flatworms Like to Live? 

The flatworm enjoys a hot and humid environment, which explains why Georgia is one of its natural habitats, and for the same reason, they thrive in greenhouses. 

And in tropical and subtropical areas, it can spread from greenhouses and is a "hitchhiker" in the landscaping, mulch and nursery industries. That fact affects western Georgians more than the rest of the state. 

How to Rid Hammerhead Flatworms? 

To get rid of these pests, experts suggest using these combinations of vinegar, citrus oil and salt: 

  • Salt and citrus oil 
  • Vinegar and citrus oil
  • Just vinegar 

Experts said the flatworm must come in direct contact and not crawl away after treatment, so they recommended trapping them in a Ziploc bag. 

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