Platydemus manokwari. Doesn't that sound like some creature out of an old horror movie? Something that oozed out of a polluted lake to take over a city? Well, not quite, but the arrival of this slimy beast has scientists concerned. Known informally as the New Guinea Flatworm, the species has made its first appearance in the United States and no one is welcoming them with open arms.
It's technically a worm, but has a rather slug-like appearance, and as its name suggests, it's flat. It's also hungry all the time. The flatworm likes to chow down on snails and this could be a problem for gardens that depend on a healthy snail population. The New Guinea Flatworm isn't picky about it where it lives either; it has the ability to be at home in many different climates. It cannot survive in northern areas that have snow and cold temperatures, and it likely would not do well in dry mountain areas since there wouldn't be enough plants, but anywhere else would be just fine.
The worm has managed to migrate out of its homeland of New Guinea and has arrived in islands throughout the Pacific. It even managed to somehow hitch a ride all the way to France, and that is a country that takes their snail population seriously. A recent study confirmed that the species is now in the US, having been found in gardens in Miami, Florida.
The research team that conducted the study also found that the pesky worm had traveled to the Solomon Islands, Singapore, Puerto Rico, and New Caledonia. Why the concern over a slimy garden worm? Well, because of its insatiable hunger it can decimate the snail population, but in addition it's highly invasive. In fact, it's earned a spot on the Invasive Species Specialist Group's 100 Worst, and it's the only worm to be listed in the top 100.
Jean-Lou Justine, the author of the study and a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris said in a statement to the media, "It will not make differences between abundant common species and rare endemic snails. In that, it is a significant potential threat to all [native] snail species."
So with the ability to overspread an area, and a huge appetite, there could be a domino effect in any habitat the flatworm comes to. If there are fewer snails, birds that depend on snails for food could be impacted. If there are not enough snails to eat certain weeds, they might choke out other plants.
Justine feels confident that the worm has likely moved on to many other gardens in Miami by way of professional gardeners. In the study he stated, "These gardens are often attended by professionals with many clients. Movements of the flatworm from garden to garden together with soil, compost, rooted plants, potted plants and garden waste will certainly disseminate the invasive species."
So, to review a slimy species of worm has arrived in the US, they eat snails which are crucial to gardens and plants, they multiply fast and they aren't picky about where they live. Oh, and also they secret toxic chemicals in their mucus, so touching them can be dangerous. No wonder researchers are keeping an eye on this species.
Check out the video below to learn more about the New Guinea Flatworm.
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