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

Polarbear

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. Recently, over 100 sightings in the Atlanta area have been recorded and the worms have invaded multiple Georgia counties upending local gardens and lawns and attacking turf and a variety of common grasses.

The worms are anywhere from 8 to 12 inches long and contain a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin 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. Reproduction seems to be primarily achieved through fragmentation.

University of Georgia agriculture extension agent James Murphy said:

Since these worms are often spread through soil, it is possible that an influx of exotic plants into an area along with rising temperatures could lead to increased populations. I don't think there's a need to sound an alarm just yet. I do think it is prudent to encourage people to continue to report sightings to authorities such as the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, Georgia Department of Agriculture, or USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) so we can track their spread.

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