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Invasive hammerhead worm spotted in Trumbull County

Posted at 2:31 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 07:24:32-04

CLEVELAND — The invasive species that shares the name of a well-known shark has wormed his way into Ohio.

An attentive homeowner in Trumbull County spotted the invasive hammerhead worm in his yard earlier this month and notified the Ohio State University Extension Office in Trumbull County.

Lee Beers, extension educator at the OSU Extension of Trumbull County, said the homeowner helped researchers track their presence in the state.

“So if it wasn't for an attentive homeowner, we probably would have never known or taken a couple more years to figure out that they're here,” said Beers.

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Lee Beers, OSU Extension Office.

While their presence was made known in Trumbull County earlier this month, they have been in Ohio since at least 2004, and then in Pennsylvania since the 50s and California since the 40s.

The hammerhead worm is a species of terrestrial flatworms that are characteristically shiny and covered in a slime-like substance. Their crescent-shaped head makes them easy to spot, and are usually orange, yellow, or brown with one to several stripes, according to OSU extension.

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Hammerhead worm (Bipalium)

Hammerhead worms vary in size, with some reaching 12 to 18 inches long, something Beer hasn’t seen yet.

The main threat of hammerhead worms against humans is that this species carries the same toxin that is in pufferfish used to overcome prey. While the worms contain low amounts of the toxin, it can cause irritation to bare skin.

“Outside of the initial being shocked or startled, there's really not much to be concerned about. But if you do see one, you recognize what it is. Some people are very sensitive to the mucous, so if you want to move it, make sure you're wearing gloves because it can cause some skin irritation,” he said.

The same caution can be said for dogs. If your pet happens to be playing with one, owners should intervene. Because hammerhead worms are so few and far between, he says owners shouldn’t really be concerned with this.

And if you want to get rid of this worm because it is invasive, Beers suggests using salt, vinegar or some rubbing alcohol as long as it doesn’t damage any nearby plants.

“Cutting it in half may just cause it to regenerate into two worms instead of one because they can reproduce asexually by biting off,” Beers said.

Hammerhead worm (Bipalium)

As for their impact in Ohio? Experts are not sure yet. The species first identified in Trumbull County, which is known as the wandering broadhead planarian, was first spotted in California.

“We don't really know what the long-term consequences are. They've been here for so long in other parts of the country that they haven't seen positive or negative impacts,” Beers said.

Hammerhead worms do like earthworms and the ones that are predominately in Ohio are also not native.

So will they eventually see them here?

“They're probably not going to move because they're probably already there,” said Beers, citing a 2004 study that identified them in Lake and Geauga counties.

If you happen to see a hammerhead worm or need help identifying an insect, Beers suggests homeowners send a picture to their local OSU Extension office.

Other invasive species

Hammerhead worms aren't the only invasive species that has made its way to Ohio. Last month, we told you about the spotted lanternfly—a colorful bug that can damage and destroy grapevines, fruit trees and a wide variety of other plants.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly, watch the video in the player below:

Be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly eggs now, before they hatch and wreak havoc on plants

RELATED: Be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly eggs now, before they hatch and wreak havoc on plants

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