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Invasive Species: New Guinea Flatworm, New to U.S.

Jun 23, 2015 04:49 PM EDT
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Florida has had the first U.S. sighting of the highly invasive New Guinea flatworm, Platydemus manokwari, according to a new study.

The flatworm, also known as a land planarian, is on the global database list of the 100 worst invasive alien species.

The worm is generally about 1.9 inches long, narrow, and has an elongated head, two prominent black eyes, and a mouth in its belly.

Aside from that description, why is the worm so bad? It spreads at great speed, and it threatens native snails, climbing trees to pursue and eat them. Native snails are critical to our food chain, and often consume rotting vegetation and fungi. Snails are also a food source for wildlife including birds, mammals, and certain lizards, snakes, salamanders, and even many fireflies, according to Discovery.com. 

This is one of the few times the snail has made it onto a mainland. Until recently, the flatworm had mainly been reported on islands in the Pacific, although it had spread to France. It is also present in Puerto Rico--the first record in the Caribbean.

While the flatworm was mainly island-hopping, its spread was considered easier to contain, the report notes. Now that it is in Florida, it easily could spread to other parts of the Americas with infested plants, plant parts, and soil. 

The flatworm is a "significant threat to the whole of the U.S. and even to the rest of the Americas," the researchers wrote in the study.

The recent report was compiled from research by 14 co-authors from eight countries, led by Jean-Lou Justine of the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity, in Paris.

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