Giant Flatworms Are Invading France

Posted: May 24 2018, 3:57pm CDT | by , Updated: May 24 2018, 4:02pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Giant Flatworms are Invading France
A hammerhead flatworm species Bipalium kewense killing an earthworm. Credit: Pierre Gros

Hammerhead flatworms are predators of soil animals and could pose a threat to local biodiversity

Around the globe, an increasing number of plant and animal species are invading new regions and disrupting local ecosystems. Tracking the abundance and distribution of these invasive species in a certain location is a big challenge.

Recently, an international team of researchers have reported the presence of giant hammerhead flatworms in France where they were not found naturally. Although hammerhead flatworms were spotted decades ago in France, this is the first study to show that these flatworms actually exist in the territory and have been multiplying at least since 1999. Like other invasive species, these worms could pose a threat to native biodiversity.

“The present findings strongly suggest that the species present in Metropolitan France and overseas territories should be considered invasive alien species. Our numerous records in the open in Metropolitan France raise questions: as scientists, we were amazed that these long and brightly colored worms could escape the attention of scientists and authorities in a European developed country for such a long time; improved awareness about land planarians is certainly necessary.” Authors wrote in the study.

The hammerhead flatworms are giant flatworms with some of their species can reach up to 1 meter in length. They are characterized by the hammer shape of their head. Originally found in warm parts of Asia, this flatworm is now widespread worldwide. Based on four-year survey from citizen science, five species of hammerhead flatworms are reported from metropolitan France in Europe and from French overseas territories in the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Oceania. Two of those species are massive, reaching length of more than 1 foot. The others are relatively small and found in most tropical French territories and a French island.

Hammerhead flatworms are predatory worms and have the potential to out-compete native species. But it’s not clear how big an impact these flatworms might have on French ecosystems.

“As invasive predators, (giant flatworms) are likely to be a threat to the abundance and biodiversity of the soil invertebrates.” Lead study author Jean-Lou Justine from National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told Live Science.

Molecular study shows that these species show no genetic variation. They are clonal, meaning they are derived from the genetically identical cell and reproduce asexually.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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