Unusual worms alarm some in North Alabama

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FLORENCE, Ala. --- Two worms Gina Myers discovered on her mother's porch Tuesday were unlike any she had ever seen.

With bodies that look somewhat like a flattened earthworm and heads like a hammerhead shark, the worms' appearance startled Myers. One of the worms was 14 inches long.

"They looked weird," she said. "My mother is 70-something and she had never seen a worm like that in her life."

The unusual creatures were hammerhead worms, which are believed to be native to Asia. They are being seen in increasing numbers around the Shoals this summer.

Paul Kittle, chairman of the Biology Department at the University of North Alabama, has received reports about local sightings of hammerhead worms for about 10 years. He had never seen the worms at his home in the Underwood community of Lauderdale County before this summer.

"I've seen quite a few this year," he said. "I've seen several on my carport, and the other day I was using a sprinkler and when I went to move it, there was a hammerhead worm on the hose."

Kittle is unsure why the worms, which can grow to 20 inches long, have taken up residence around his home.

Hammerhead worms live in the soil like earthworms, but are a form of flatworm. They are often found on top of the soil in lawns or gardens after it has rained.

The worms leave a slime trail where they crawl, like those left by slugs and snails.

Kittle said the worms are harmless to humans and pets.

They are a threat to earthworms, which make up the lion's share of their diet.

Paul M. Choate, lecturer in the Entomology and Nematology Department at the University of Florida, said while hammerhead worms do not pose a risk to wild populations of the common earthworm in the United States, they are a threat to farms where worms are raised for fish bait.

"If they get into a worm farm and become established, it could be a disaster," Choate said.

Hammerhead worms have destroyed some earthworm farms in Europe.

Choate recommends anyone finding a hammerhead worm in their yard or garden to leave it alone.

He said there are no known ways for controlling hammerhead worms in the wild. Cutting a hammerhead worm in half in an attempt to kill it can result in one worm becoming two.

Hammerhead worms are typically found in moist locations, such as beneath a gutter downspout around a home or where condensation from an air conditioner is discharged onto the ground, Kittle said.

"They are perfectly harmless to humans," he said, "but if someone was to look out their window and see one on the outside, it would probably greatly alarm them."

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lowellbrown 07/17/09 - 03:04 pm
Sure hope Mr. Choate is right

Sure hope Mr. Choate is right about those things not being a threat to wild earthworm populations. According to googled sources, they are disgusting, useless creatures that devour earthworms by dissolving them with enzymes. You wouldn't want them in your garden plot. They can be killed by direct contact with vinegar, salt or citrus oil.

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