The Ultimate Secrets Of Hammerhead Worms
A nasty invader with no natural predators worms its way underground in many parts of Alabama.
This carnivore preys on beneficial earthworms and secretes a poisonous toxin that can cause nausea and skin irritation if you or your pets touch it and can be challenging to kill.
And it’s not going away.
Got your attention yet?
This nuisance, known as the hammerhead worm, is native to Southeast Asia and was first discovered in the United States in greenhouses in the early 1900s.
It likely got here by hitchhiking in the dirt of plants. The name comes from its spade-shaped head. The critter is carnivorous and cannibalistic.
Its favorite foods include snails, slugs, certain insects, and the humble earthworm, a gardener’s friend that helps keep soil fertilized and arable.
Hammerhead Worms Have A Different Way Of Multiplying
One more thing: They multiply asexually, and if you cut one in half, the tail end will grow a new head within ten days, and then you have two worms. Even Godzilla can’t do that.
According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, hammerhead worms can grow 18 inches long, often meaning people may mistake them for snakes. But the average size is eight- to 10-inches-long, still a noticeable size.
It sounds like a script from a 1950s B horror movie, “The Worm That Ate Wetumpka.” You know the kind, some creature perambulates from a government-run nuclear test zone in the Nevada desert with altered DNA to wreak havoc and spawn hysteria.
They are likewise the original land invertebrates found to deliver the same toxin encountered in pufferfish.
In the fish, the toxin is fatal to humans, with one pufferfish containing sufficient to poison 30 adult humans. Insufficient is learned about the hammerhead toxin’s effects on humans, but it is believed a person would have to eat a considerable portion of them to be lethal.
However, rinse your hands after dealing with hammerhead worms.
How Dangerous Are Hammerhead Worms?
In reality, the hammerhead worm is more a nuisance than a menace. It’s been in Alabama for decades, said Katelyn Kesheimer, an assistant professor at Auburn University’s department of entomology and plant pathology. It has spread throughout the state.
“You don’t need to freak out. They are here, and they are here to stay,” she said. “There is no factual information about how dangerous they are regarding the toxin. If you contact a hammerhead worm, wash your hands.”
It doesn’t appear that the earthworm population has seen a significant decline because of voracious hammerheads. And some help is coming from the home team.
Native amphibians, like frogs, toads, and salamanders, and some birds have munched on the hammerheads. Maybe the toxin has become a condiment of sorts. Who knows?
What Should You Do If You Find A Hammerhead Worm?
Familiar hiding places for them include leaf litter or under rocks, logs or shrubs, and greenhouses. Greenhouses’ high temperature and moisture levels make them a suitable environment for these worms.
Vinegar works to kill the hammerheads, along with citrus oil and good old-fashioned table salt. Salt has the same acidic effect on the worms it has on slugs.
But be careful with artificial chemical warfare. Too much salt, vinegar, or lemon juice can kill grass and plants.
Worms have been discovered in Maryland and further north., but not in the upper Midwest near the Great Lakes, Kesheimer said. Since they are native to humid areas, the colder weather of the Upper Midwest may limit their range.
You can squish them; they won’t come back from that. The worms are more active in periods of wet weather, Kesheimer said, just like earthworms.
“You may see them above ground,” she said. “And just like earthworms, they may dry out once the sun gets them if they can’t return to a moist environment. If you see them, use gloves to pick them up, or a Ziploc type bag turned inside out.”
We have seen no widespread damage to our gardens, lawns, or persons because of hammerhead worms.
Know Your Enemy
Here’s the lowdown on these creepy critters
- Hammerhead worms are native to Southeast Asia and were first found in the United States around 1900.
- They get their name from their spade-shaped head.
- They are carnivorous and cannibalistic. They prey on earthworms.
- They can grow to 18 inches long, but most as seven to 10 inches.
- They secrete a toxin that can lead to skin irritation and upset stomachs in people and pets.
- Ordinary table salt sprinkled on them is the best control method. Vinegar and citrus oil also works.
Article based on the following Sources:
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System.