The highly invasive New Guinea flatworm has been reported in several Miami-area gardens, creating serious concerns for ecosystems in the continental United States.
Florida has a big problem on its hands, and it could even spread to other states soon enough. The New Guinea flatworm, an invasive force to be reckoned with, has shown up in several gardens in the Miami area. According to a report from Newsweek, the flatworm has been spreading from its home in the Pacific islands across the globe at an alarming rate.
The New Guinea flatworm has touched down on the continental U.S. for the first time, and it could mean disaster for many of our country’s food webs and ecosystems. The worm is a voracious predator of many native snail species, and there are no natural predators on the continent.
According to the study’s lead author, Jean-Lou Justine from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, the flatworm is one of the most dangerous invasive species in the world. The worm has a large appetite for many varieties of garden snails and other soil-dwelling invertebrates. As it gorges on these native species, the flatworm will likely send shocks throughout various ecosystems.
Justine says that the worm poses a serious threat to the native snail species in the U.S. Many bird species and other small animals rely on snails as a primary food source, and will soon face stiff competition for resources from the flatworms, fresh off the boat.
The flatworm is endemic to the high-elevation areas in New Guinea, where temperatures rarely dip below freezing. Ecologists don’t expect the worm to extend its range into the northern parts of the U.S. and Canada, but anywhere with a temperate climate is fair game.
The flatworm was previously confined to island environments, hopping rides on boats and planes. Now that it has reached the continental United States, however, there is virtually no limit to how far it could expand.
Scientists worry that the high-traffic gardens in the Miami area will serve as a prolific breeding ground for flatworm populations, as gardeners move their equipment from one plot to the next.
The worms also release hazardous chemical compounds that are incorporated into their mucus, which can be toxic and cause allergic reactions. The mucus also serves as a defensive mechanism from predators, of which there are currently none in the U.S.
Ecologists and environmental professionals are scrambling to get a grip on the New Guinea flatworm before its numbers start to get out of control in the United States.