TEXAS (KXAN) — An invasive, snake-like worm species is making the rounds throughout Texas, with the possibility of causing physical reactions in humans or animals that come into contact with it.
What is the hammerhead flatworm?
The hammerhead flatworm is a light or honey-colored creature that can grow up to 15 inches long, according to the Texas Invasive Species Institute. Flatworms target and eat earthworms, which are beneficial to soil.
Beyond affecting gardens and crops, flatworms secrete chemicals that can be responsible for skin irritation in humans who come into contact with it or can be poisonous for pets if ingested, per TISI.
Should a pet ingest them, they’ll likely get sick and throw up as a result of the flatworm’s defense mechanism.
This isn’t the species’ first appearance in the Lone Star State. It has been spotted in the U.S. for more than 100 years, with the flatworm preferring hot and humid climates. Since its introduction to North America more than 100 years ago, it has been found naturally in Texas.
Residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have reported sightings this spring, with experts telling KPRC in Houston rainy weather might lead to more spottings statewide. Ashley Morgan-Olvera, TISI’s research and education director, confirmed to KXAN Thursday there have been reports in the Central Texas region.
“We knew them to be present in East Texas, which made sense for the hot and humid environment,” she said. “But once we started getting reports from citizens, we found that they’re all throughout the Austin area, the surrounding counties, and they’re being spread by people moving landscape items.”
She added a drier summer could lessen population sizes here in Central Texas, but with new plants and crops moving around frequently, that poises a steady population throughout the Austin-San Antonio region down to the coast.
How do you dispose of hammerhead flatworms?
With the latest round of heavy rains and moisture in the Austin area, she said that creates ample opportunity for these soil-dwelling flatworms to emerge as they’re flooded out of their habitats. As residents bring in new plants, soil or mulch for their yards, she said to keep an eye out for these critters.
The pests can be killed using either citrus oil and salt, or sprayed with a combination of citrus oil and vinegar. If spotted, TISI recommends placing the critter in a Ziploc bag filled with salt and/or vinegar, before then throwing out the sealed bag. TISI officials stress using gloves, a paper towel or a stick when handling the worms, followed by thorough washing with warm, soapy water and an alcohol rinse or disinfectant.
Prior to disposing of the flatworm, TISI is requesting residents submit photos and relevant information to help with state tracking efforts on the invasive species. Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for data collection.