Should Americans be alarmed?
The New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari)-a squirming, 5-centimeter-long worm with a taste for escargot-has helped decimate some snail populations in certain Pacific Islands, and now it’s rearing its head in Florida, according to researchers. Yikes! But don’t fret.
The problem for snails is flatworms are voracious snail predators, and Platydemus has the added threat of being extremely invasive.
All known species in this world have scientific names, and the same can be said of these New Guinea planarians.
Platydemus manokwari isn’t unsafe to humans. However, since P. manokwari is now recorded from 21 countries in the world and we have genetic information from only eight of these, with none from New Guinea, this analysis provides only partial knowledge of the genetic structure of the invasive species.
As stated earlier, this flatworm was first described in a research facility in New Guinea.
It was also deliberately introduced into two Pacific islands in an attempt to control an invasion of the Giant East African Snail.
Jean-Lou Justine of the Sorbonne’s National Museum of Natural History and his global team of colleagues identified the dreaded worm at the various sites based on observations, DNA sequencing and other techniques.
Experts believe this species of flatworm comes from New Guinea, but in recent years it has spread all over the world, including Florida, Puerto Rico, New Caledonia, Singapore, the Wallis and Fortuna Islands and the Solomon Islands.
According to the researchers, the flatworm adapts very quickly to new environments and starts predating on invertebrates especially local snails.
This was the first time the worm has been discovered in the US, NBC News reports.
The worm isn’t likely to spread into the extreme northern United States or Canada and also in the deserts or in rockier mountain areas, as it prefers areas with soil and plants.
The researchers said in the open-access journal PeerJ that the species “probably arrived in Florida in or around 2012”. Most land snails in North America feed on decomposing vegetation and animal matter, absorbing nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and manganese in the process.
Owners in the state had been releasing the massive snakes into the everglades once they were too big to manage, and the reptiles created an overbearing presence which still threatens the ecosystem there.
There was great anxiety when the flatworms were detected in France in 2014.