Hammerhead flatworms, which are generally native to Asia, have found their way to French overseas territories and to France itself. Apparently a first sighting occurred in 1999, and scientists have now concluded that the giant worms, which can reportedly grow to about one foot and feed on earthworms, have officially invaded the country and can impose substantial damage on farmland.
The predatory worms may have arrived in Europe via tropical plants and have been crawling around in France for two decades-plus without the knowledge of — or formal identification by — the scientific community or the government sector.
“France is known for many of its cultural items, including exceptional cuisine, wine, and the Louvre. Soon, it may also be known for its arm-length, shovel-headed, carnivorous worms,” the Earther website quipped.
In 2013, an amateur naturalist sent photos of hammerhead flatworms to Professor Jean-Lou Justine at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Justine admitted that he was astounded by the images, thinking that they may have been a prank or that someone brought a worm in from overseas and pretended that it showed up in his garden, the Washington Post explained.
He and his colleagues began investigating further, gathering images of large worms from citizen scientists for four years from around France.
“Sifting through the pictures, it became apparent that French citizens had known something was amiss in their yards for years. They just had no idea what they were looking at,” the Post added.
Prof. Justine and several co-authors published a paper today in the PeerJ journal about the giant hammerhead flatworms, which they describe as an invasive, “alien” predatory species that poses a danger to local fauna.
“As scientists, we were amazed that these long and brightly colored worms could escape the attention of scientists and authorities in a European developed country for such a long time; improved awareness about land planarians is certainly necessary.”
“All of these flatworms are predators, which means the pose a serious threat to other small creatures that inhabit the soil, as well as ecological processes in general,” The Independent affirmed. The news outlet added that officials are trying to put controls in place to prevent the spread of these worms, which have also been spotted in the U.K.
The French scientists have yet to determine the long-range implications of the giant, five-species worm invasion, the Post detailed.
“It is unclear how the hammerhead flatworms have altered French biodiversity. Justine and the other researchers did not study the soil ecology. But the creatures are ‘dangerous predators’ to many helpful soil critters, and that’s what has biologists worried.”
Another scientist, not connected to the above-referenced study, claims that the giant worms will continue to spread across the world, particularly as a result of global commerce. He also noted that a variety of flatworms from New Zealand gobbled up so many earthworms that agricultural grass in affected locations shrank by about 6 percent in Ireland and Scotland. It’s not just Europe either: Florida has reportedly already seen its share of smaller flatworms.