The New Guinea Flatworm makes its way into the US and it is threatening to stick along for quite a while.
Platydemus manokwari, or the New Guinea flatworm is small black slimy critter with an enormous appetite for snails. It is 40-65 mm long, 4-7 mm wide and only 2 mm thick, thus being included in the flatworm category. Its dorsal side is olive black, with a pale stripe that crossed longitudinally and two prominent eyes can be easily observed. Its ventral side is pale as well, ranging from white to very light brown.
Its bucal cavity is located on its ventral side, which is quite odd even for a worm. Its favorite dish is snail and it has a complex tracking mechanism that it employs to find them. The New Guinea flatworm can track the chemicals in the snail’s mucus and so it knows exactly where it has to go to get its prey. In the event that there are no snails to be found, it will settle for earthworms and small arthropods.
In the past, the New Guinea flatworm has managed to get to France, the escargot country and it has caused havoc among snail eaters, who were left without the main ingredient for their escargot dishes. This species is highly infective, as it multiplies very fast. According to the scientific journal PeerJ, the snail-eating flatworm has also been spotted in Puerto Rico, Tahiti, Singapore and a few other countries.
Its presence has been recently identified in Miami, Florida, to the utter disappointment of locals. Its presence could decimate snail populations and therefore affect the entire ecosystem, because the seemingly unimportant snails constitute the food source of a wide range of animals, including lizards and snakes, birds and mammals, but also quite a few insects.
Furthermore, the snails have a very important role in fertilizing the soil, as they feed on decaying vegetation and everything that comes along with it.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included the New Guinea flatworm on its list of the 100 worst invasive species, because it can set up camp in a new habitat extremely easily and because no snail stands a chance while it is there.
The IUCN has reported that the widespread of this snail-eating flatworm came from an intervention that went horribly wrong. The New Guinea flatworm was meant to limit the spread of an entirely other destructive species, the giant African land snail, but it soon became apparent that the flatworm prefers the common snails to the dangerous ones.
“This should be considered a significant threat to the whole of the US and even to the rest of the Americas. (…)The record in Florida is of particular concern because it is in mainland America,” said Parisian Institute of Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity representative, Jean-Lou Justine.
Hopefully, serious methods will be taken in order to limit the spread of the New Guinea flatworm, because, as Jean-Lou Justine explained, the critter can spread much more easily now that it has reached in mainland America. Until now, it has only made its way to islands, and therefore transmission occurred with more difficulty there.
Due to the fact that the New Guinea flatworm is spread through plant transports, it has the potential of being distributed all throughout America, unless the problem is properly dealt with as soon as possible.
Image Source: treehugger.com