BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – So there is a pest that is harmless to plants, but harmful to humans and animals? Did I mention that this pest is in Louisiana?
Dr. Blake Layton, of Mississippi State University refers to these pests by their real name, hammerhead worms.
Hammerhead worms are commonly found in greenhouses or places with “hot, humid environments,” according to the Texas Invasive Species Institute.
So where did hammerhead worms come from and how did they end up in Louisiana and other southern states?
According to Assistant Professor Nathan P. Lord, Ph.D. at LSU, “This species is thought to originate in SE Asia and they have been introduced all around the world.”
Lord says one way the worms may have made their way to Louisiana is in the soil of ornamental plants.
These worms hitchhiked to the USA and now can be found all across Louisiana especially in the areas that mimic their native climate.
Since they are here, who has to worry about hammerhead worms?
For starters, earthworms should be on alert because hammerhead worms prey upon them.
It is what hammerhead worms use to disable the earth worms that can be harmful to humans and or pets.
Lord says, “they actually produce a pretty nasty neurotoxin for paralyzing the earthworm prey, so there is certainly the potential for people and pets to be harmed if eaten or touched.”
What that means is that if you ever come in contact with a hammerhead worm, put on a pair of gloves, don’t touch their bare skin and of course, do not eat them.
The Texas Invasive Species Institute advises that after handling a hammerhead flatworm, wash with hot soapy water, rinse in alcohol and or use hand disinfectant.
If you see one of these worms and have the urge to kill it, take a moment and consider your options. Flamethrower anyone?
If a flamethrower is not available, TISI mentions that you should not try to chop up the hammerhead worm.
If you do happen to try to chop up this worm, it will only result in more hammerhead worms.
According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, “Reproduction seems to be primarily achieved through fragmentation: a small rear portion of the worm will pinch off, and “stay behind” as the worm moves forward.”
TISI continues by saying, “Within about 10 days, the head begins to form and this may happen a few times a month.”
According to Assistant Professor Lord, “Specialized cells allow these worms (and a number of other organisms) to regenerate parts of their body, or sometimes even entire new bodies from a small piece of the original worm.”
So what do you do if you don’t have a flamethrower?
Both Dr. Layton and Assistant Professor Lord recommend putting salt on the hammerhead worms.
If you do not have salt available, the worms will dry out if left in the bright sun for a period of time.
If that does not work for you either and you are feeling brave, Lord says, “squishing them is likely to do enough damage to kill them.”