Snail-Devouring Worm Has Invaded Florida

Invasive New Guinea flatworm will even chase its prey up trees
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2015 3:24 PM CDT
Snail-Devouring Worm Has Invaded Florida
Screenshot from video of a New Guinea flatworm having its lunch: some poor snail.   (Pierre Gros/GeoBeats News)

It's considered one of the "world's worst invasive alien species," sucks snails into a ravenous mouth located in the middle of its belly, and has now invaded US shores for the first time. "It" is the New Guinea flatworm, and researchers are afraid that now that their study in PeerJ has shown the worm is in Florida, the slimy species could spread to the rest of the mainland and put the country's entire snail population on the run, the Washington Post reports. And the gastropods would literally have to learn to run, because Platydemus manokwari is so persistent it will chase the future escargots up trees to retrieve them, the paper notes. How the two-inch worm chows down on a snail once it does catch it, per LiveScience: It wraps itself around its prey, then "ingests them with a mouthlike structure on its underside."

The flatworm is usually found in the Pacific region and most recently has terrorized France, the study notes. An expert with France's National Museum of Natural History told the Guardian last year that "all snails in Europe could be wiped out," adding that "it's worth pointing out the effect that this will have on French cooking." It takes the worms awhile to move into a new habitat—they've got to be accidentally carried in in soil or plants, the Post notes—but once they infiltrate, they can wreak havoc on a region's ecosystem by taking snails out of the food chain and removing earthworms (another of their preferred meals) from their job of maintaining our soils and other needed agricultural tasks. (Another invasive creature that has ecologists worried: a "walking" fish that can choke birds that try to eat it.)

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