The New Guinea flatworm invasion

Reporter: Amy Galo
Published: Updated:

Creepy crawlers that are toxic enough to take your skin off have made their way to Southwest Florida.

The invasive species is called the New Guinea flatworm.

A WINK News viewer in Naples is at war with the worms, and this could only be the beginning.

These worms certainly put up a fight. Gerald Hoogland split one in half, and the worm turned into two and went about its day.

Hoogland is convinced that’s how they’re multiplying so fast.

Last year, he saw one only occasionally, but now, they’ve taken over.

“I killed 19 of them one night and nine of them the other night,” Hoogland said. “I poked at one, and it jumped up, and it wrapped itself around the tip of this thing, and I could not get it off,” Hoogland said.

One of them even hurt his wife.

“One landed on her wrist, and it had made a chemical burn about an inch and a half long on her wrist,” he said.

The flatworms are not supposed to be here.

“The new guinea flatworm is one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world,” said Christina Anaya, an Florida Gulf Coast University biologist.

And as Hoogland can attest to, they are hard to kill and regenerative.

“I took my umbrella, and I cut one in half, and one half went that way, and one half went that way, and I said, ‘That’s not good,'” he said.

When he put them in a bottle with no oxygen for a few days, they survived.

The only method that’s worked?

“I stepped on it,” Hoogland said.

This is actually one of the recommended ways to do it.

“You can put them in a bag and throw them in a freezer, or just squish ’em,” Anaya said.

The invasive worms are toxic, which is why you shouldn’t touch them.

“The risk to humans is they can have an allergic reaction to that toxin,” Anaya said.

They also carry rat lungworm and can spread meningitis.

“But we don’t eat them commonly, so the risk is at a very safe level,” Anaya said.

Of course, that means we must watch out for our pets.

These worms usually come out in the early morning hours. You’ll typically find them on sidewalks, likely escaping the wet grass.

“New Guinea Flatworms have been in Florida for quite a while and probably, like other invasive species, make their way in vegetation and soils that are brought over or exotic plants,” Anaya said, “and so there they really are all over the place. You can find them usually in the mornings after the sprinklers have been shut off.”

You’ll find them commonly on the sidewalks, and they frequent gardens and vegetation areas where they find their prey. They eat snails and earthworms in the soil. If you have vegetables in your garden, make sure to wash them well before eating them.

Anaya said she’s not aware of any sort of commercial spray that will kill these worms, something Hoogland really wishes he had.

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