Not long ago, we wrote about how the Zika virus has landed in the United States. Well, we’ve got some more bad news. Thanks to the marvels of modern travel and trade, there’s a new disgusting parasite in town.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the New Guinea flatworm. This bugger has made quite a name for itself. It’s referred to by conservationists as ‘one of the world’s worst invasive species.’
And now, it’s in Florida.
The worm was first spotted in Miami in 2015. It was transported there via imported plants and exotic fruits. The worm quickly spread to Cape Coral and now, experts fear it could land in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Jacksonville.
How Bad Is It?
When the New Guinea flatworm arrives in a new region, it reproduces like crazy. Sorta like bunny rabbits except bunny rabbits don’t disrupt entire ecosystems with nearly as much efficiency.
To make matters worse, the worm doesn’t even need a mate to reproduce. A single worm can quickly turn into dozens.
According to a report from the scientific journal PeerJ, the New Guinea flatworm has the potential to wipe out all snails wherever it lands.
“This could ripple up the food chain to affect creatures that eat snails, like birds,” said Jean-Lou Justine, lead author of the study. “The plants that snails eat, like certain weeds, might spread and become overgrown.”
Curious as to how the worm kills snails? Of course you are.
The worm latches onto the poor creatures, finds the opening in their shell and then spits acidic goo at the snail. This goo dissolves the snail’s flesh so the worm can digest it.
The goo is also highly acidic to humans, which is why you should never get close to a New Guinea flatworm if you see one.
But skin-dissolving goo is not the only threat posed to humans by this worm. The worm also carries a parasite known as rat lungworm. This parasite is easily passed onto humans and can cause severe meningitis – swelling of the brain and spinal cord.
“If you have long worms, basically you start this horrible coughing,” said agriculturist Roy Beckford. “It’s a parasite in your lungs that needs to be treated.”
Other symptoms of infection include:
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe headache
- Pale skin
What To Do If You Spot The New Guinea Flatworm
Luckily, the New Guinea flatworm is very easily identified. There aren’t many things that look quite like it.
It’s a dark, flat worm with an orange stripe running down its center. The worm grows to roughly two inches long and a quarter inch wide. It’s primarily spotted around soil.
If you do see the New Guinea flatworm, take a picture and contact your local wildlife authority. To kill a flatworm, douse it in hot water.