How to Handle This Invasive Worm Now Found in Massachusetts
There is some good news and bad news for Massachusetts.
The bad news is that an invasive species has been reported, and it can cause some serious trouble to agriculture.
The good news is that the species seems to be confined (so far).
Here’s what you need to know about the hammerhead worm that is now living in Massachusetts.
What is a Hammerhead Worm?
Bipalium kewense, better known as the hammerhead worm, is a terrestrial flatworm that has a snake-like body with a head shaped like a hammerhead shark.
According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, hammerhead worms can grow up to 15 inches long and are known predators of earthworms, which are vital to the health of forests, crops, gardens, and compost piles.
Native to Southeast Asia, this worm thrives in hot, humid environments and secretes chemicals through its skin to make it noxious to predators.
“These chemicals can cause skin irritation on humans if they hold the flatworm, and domestic mammals if they consume the flatworm,” said the institute.
They can also carry “parasitic nematodes” within.
Hammerhead Worms Found in Massachusetts
The Institute reports that the worms can currently be found in 18 states. While some states are considered natural habitats, some states seem to only have them in greenhouses, which creates the perfect environment for these critters to thrive.
Massachusetts is currently listed as a “temporary population” and has a significant presence in greenhouses.
How to Deal with Hammerhead Worms
Whatever you do, do not cut it up. A hammerhead worm will split into two and continue to thrive.
To get rid of Hammerheads:
- Spray with a combination of citrus oil and vinegar, applied directly to the worm
- Place them in a Ziploc bag with salt or vinegar, then dispose of the sealed bag
- It is important to use gloves, a paper towel or a stick, and hands should be washed in warm soapy water and rinsed in disinfectant during and after handling a hammerhead
- Continuous removal of these invasive flatworms is necessary for the protection of naturalized earthworm populations.