Predator Worms Invade Florida

Invasive animal species that make the headlines usually do so because they’re not native to the lands they infest. Depending on what it is, the description can sound like something straight out of a sci-fi horror flick.

Please, let us introduce you to the New Guinea flatworm if you’ve never been acquainted. Its upper body is dark colored with an orange stripe going down the middle of its back, and its belly is pale. These worms eat snails and other invertebrates like earthworms and slugs. They don’t have any known predators, and birds won’t touch them because they don’t taste that great.

Sound like the opening scene to an “Attack of the Killer ___” movie yet? Naturally, local health, wildlife, and agriculture officials launched an investigation into the flatworms and what type of damage they could do. It wasn’t pretty.

First found in Miami, Florida, the predatory creature made its way to the southwestern part of Florida as well. Cape Coral residents spotted them in their driveways and potted plants, prompting calls to authorities. Playing host to a species of parasite commonly known as the rat lungworm, the New Guinea flatworm can pass lungworm infections onto rats and mice. How? They eat them!

Image of predator worms in pot.Fox 4
According to agricultural agent Roy Beckford, the infection can then be transmitted to humans through air contaminated with rodent droppings. A nagging, persistent cough is the most common symptom of the parasitic infection in humans, as the lungworm could burrow and lodge in the lungs. Also alarming is that a person could develop other illnesses like meningitis, thus affecting the brain and spinal cord.

Additionally, during an interview with WPTV, Mr. Beckford shared that the worm’s vomit secretes a toxin that is caustic to human skin. Ouch! Got that? Don’t touch it, eat it, pick it, or flick it!

Florida wildlife officials assert that the animal most likely hitched a ride through the international shipping of goods, making it an accidental alien. One of the reasons it’s detrimental to the environment is because of its potential to knock out soil helpers like earthworms and snails, who aid in keeping fungi and bacteria in soil down. They can also leech off native vegetation.

To help the public identify and combat the buggers, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission asked that people snap pictures and call in sightings. Hit them at this easy to remember number: 888-IVE-GOT1. Doing so would allow them to track and/or possibly assist with elimination of the species. But that doesn’t mean you can’t kill them yourself.

Hold on, before you get ready to bust out in your “Tremors: Part 25” gear, state experts have advice on how to off the nasty bugs. Just add hot water. That’s correct, pour boiling water on them and say buh-bye. What better way to spend your Saturday morning gardening hour than snuffing out worm invaders?

Watch the full clip below to find out what these guys look like and what they’re capable of. Have you ever had to be on the lookout for invasive species where you live? What are your thoughts on this New Guinea flatworm? Tell us in the comments!