Invasive toxic, self-cloning hammerhead worms are spreading in Tennessee


Hammerhead worms, which are native to Japan and Korea, made their way to the United States on the soil of ornamental plants in the 1900s. Hammerhead worms have moved throughout the country through the movement of soils, especially in greenhouse production, and have been spotted in several Eastern Tennessee counties recently.

The worms are anywhere from four to 15 inches long and secrete chemicals through their skin which can cause skin irritation in humans. They are harmful not only to plants but also to essential earthworms and animals.

The worms are immortal - i.e.; If you try to cut it in half - the most common way to kill a worm - it will just regrow into two separate worms. Individual flatworms can be killed by placing them in alcohol or into a bag and freezing them. Reproduction seems to be primarily achieved through fragmentation.

Dr. Karen Vail, University of Tennessee Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist said:

They pose a threat to our environment. They’re predators. They feed on earthworms and slugs and other invertebrates, and even on other hammerhead worms. They reproduce asexually. They break up a part of their body and then it regenerates the rest of it. So, if you were to hack it up into several pieces, you’re going to be having that many more hammerhead worms present.

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