BYResearchers from around the world reported findings of flatworms in the new areas, after which they sent photographs and DNA samples to Justine in Paris for his confirmation.
The flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) has few natural predators outside of New Guinea, and it likely will have no predators in the United States, Justine says. It gobbles up soil-dwelling invertebrates like snails, which could have a big impact on the environment.
“It will not make differences between abundant common species and rare endemic snails,” Justine says. “In that, it is a significant potential threat to all [native] snail species.” This could ripple up the food chain to affect creatures that eat snails, like birds. It could have impacts in the other direction of the food chain as well: The plants that snails eat, like certain weeds, might spread and become overgrown.
Looking like a cross between a slimy slug and a flattened snake, the New Guinea flatworm has a renowned hunger for snails and the ability to live in just about any environment. In the past few decades, it has spread out of its native New Guinea to islands throughout the Pacific and as far away as France. It has now been discovered in mainland United States, in several gardens in Miami.
A study published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ shows that the odious worm has also made its way to Puerto Rico, Singapore, several New Caledonian islands and the Solomon Islands.
That’s a major concern, as it is considered one of the world’s worst invasive species, says study author Jean-Lou Justine, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. (In fact, the Invasive Species Specialist Group, a global network of scientific and policy experts, has placed the worm on their 100 worst invasive species list.)