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Foot-long hammerhead worm looks like an alien species

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Hammerhead worm

Gardeners in Georgia, USA have reported seeing what looks like an alien species: a worm that looks like a snake about 12 inches long with a hammerhead like a hammerhead shark. It is also known as the shovel-headed worm. It is fascinating and at the same time a little bit disgusting but a standard worm nonetheless and therefore of no danger to people. Although it contains a neurotoxin.

Hammerhead worm

Hammerhead worm. Screenshot from video.

One gardner told an Atlanta television station that it looked like an alien and that it was something that they had never seen before. There appears to be more sightings of this strange species in other American states. In fact, sightings go back at least a century. The description of the worm originates in the 1870s at Kew Gardens, London, UK, which incidentally is down the road from me.

They are said to be a very hardy worm able to reproduce from body fragments. The body contains a paralytic toxin which acts as a defence mechanism against predators. They don’t like the taste! There toxin is used to subdue prey animals to the worm. They prey on other animals such as earthworms. And they can be cannibalistic. The toxin inside it is a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which is also found in pufferfish and rough-skinned newts. Scientists know of no other terrestrial invertebrates which contains this toxin.

The increase in sightings may be due to the fact that nowadays far more people have cameras on their phones and therefore are more likely to photograph this strange creature. They can be killed apparently by sprinkling them with salt or putting them into a pail of water.

The Science Times website refer to this worm as a snake found in Virginia. People then realised that it was a large invasive species from Asia. The Texas Invasive Species Institute say that the hammerhead worm is a terrestrial flatworm. It is native to the subtropics and tropics and is particularly found in south-east Asia. They are hermaphrodite with male and female genitalia.

Citizens discovering the worm say that it is hard to kill describing it as an “immortal worm”. They suggested killing it using salt or vinegar. Why can’t they leave it alone?

Live Science say that they can regenerate from a piece that is 1/300th original size. Cutting them up does not kill them. This invasive species made their way into America decades ago. They appear to be found all over America but in small numbers. They been seen in Virginia, Maine and North Carolina and as mentioned Georgia.

The picture on this page shows a hammerhead worm with banding but they come in different sizes, colours and striped patterns. The worm poses a threat to the ecosystem in America. If they prey on earthworms they also affect the fertilisation of the soil.