‘Killer worm’ found in Scotland as gardeners urged to look out for the pests

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Experts are urging people to be on the look out for two new species of killer hammerhead flatworms – which could threaten some earthworm species.

Despite their small 3cm size, these worms are believed to pose a risk to native British species, which gardeners and farmers depend on.

Hammerhead flatworms can kill common garden critters like snails and earthworms, with scientists warning they could evolve into an invasive species, Glasgow Live reports.

The Mirror reports the spread of than 10 species of flatworms is due to increasing trade in imported plants.

According to scientists, the worms have been brought all over the world from their native Asia, with one type having been found in France and Italy, another on an island near Africa – and are said to threaten biodiversity in gardens and farms.

One type of flatworm is said to have already been found in Scotland.

Taking to Instagram, Gabrielle Reith, who lives in Scotland, wrote: “UK folks… If you find a worm in your garden that looks like this then please kill them! They are the invasive New Zealand Flat Worm and kill our earth worms by wrapping round them and dissolving them into pink gloop!

“They hide under rocks or weedblock during the day so search there and check the bottom of pots when you buy any plants. Kill them by squishing or dropping into salt. Don’t touch with bare hands as the excretion can aggravate skin!

“I don’t like killing anything but make an exception for these! We sadly have them in our garden now and the neighboring farmyard seems to be ground zero.”

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The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have said there are approximately 17 non-native species of land flatworms in Britain – four of which are native.

Flatworms can be found in “shady and wet places” on the soil surface eg under pots, containers, tarpaulins, and leaf litter. The lack of earthworms they can cause often goes unnoticed.

The RHS have also said that “the majority of the non-native flatworm species prey on earthworms, slugs, snails and other soil organisms. Australian and New Zealand flatworms are two species that have become established and widespread in Britain and Ireland.

“Both species specialize on earthworms and they can severely reduce the populations of some earthworm species and consequently affect the soil ecosystem. However, several other species had been accidentally introduced including two Kontikia species and there is evidence that non-native flatworms continue to be introduced including the Obama flatworm.”

Replying to the comments one Scottish Instagram user said: “Found one under a garden pot the other week and didn’t know what it was (thought at first a shell-less snail). Away to see if I can find it again and get rid now I know what it is.”

Discussing the New Zealand flatworm ( Arthurdendyus triangulates ) they add: “[The worm] reaches 20cm (8in) in length and is dark brown with a paler margin. It arrived in Britain, probably with imported plants, during the 1960s and it has since become widely distributed. It feeds exclusively on earthworms and is capable of reducing earthworm populations.

“This has undesirable effects on soil structure and also denies earthworms as a food resource for those native animals that feed on them. This flatworm originates from New Zealand and is now thriving in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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