Invasive toxic, self-cloning hammerhead worms are spreading in North Carolina


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. The hammerhead worm has been found in NC since 1951 and has been spotted in several North Carolina 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 - ie; 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.

The Caldwell Extension Center has received numerous calls about strange-looking hammerhead worms from several counties. Seth Nagy, Cooperative Extension director said:

This is not all that new (or dangerous) but we are getting more and more calls about these strange-looking critters. This particular worm is one of several flatworms or terrestrial worms that inhabit North Carolina.

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