SPRINGFIELD, Missouri – When Jennifer Serfass heard her children scream, “Mom, look at that worm,” she was expecting an ordinary native earthworm. But this one had a bulbous mushroom head.
“It was really long,” Serfass recalled in a telephone interview with the Springfield News-Leader, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. “He was moving slowly, like a slug.”
After further researching the worm that appeared outside his home on June 7, Serfass identified it as a hammer worm, or bipalium. And she realized that it was considered intrusive.
Serfass’s first reaction: “We have to get rid of it.
She initially considered cutting the pest into pieces. But it would just push back its tail, Serfass learned online. The Springfield Conservation Nature Center also said she needs to get rid of it, but not with a knife.
“I had read that other people said to use salt because they look like slugs, so that’s what I did,” she said.
This learning experience was useful not only for Serfass, but also for his children, aged 6 months to 6 years. She spared them the exact details of the Hammer Worm ending.
Serfass explained that, no, they couldn’t just give up and why.
Serfass shared the experience on social media in the Welcome to Springfield, MO Facebook group and the post exploded. With nearly 9,000 shares and more than 1,000 comments, Internet users weighed in on the discovery while expressing their astonishment.
The visceral reactions are understandable, especially considering how predatory hammerworms can be, said Kelly McGowan, horticultural field specialist at the University of the Missouri Extension.
Why are hammer worms bad?
The invasive worms are not toxic to humans or animals, but they do attack native earthworms and other soil-living species, McGowan said.
“Earthworms and other little creatures are very important to the health of our soil, and any time you have a non-native species like the hammer worm that comes in and starts feeding on some of our native things, it certainly can. affect the health of our soil, ”McGowan mentioned.
One of the first reports of a hammer worm in the area passed through McGowan’s office in 2018. Since then, she began collecting data on sightings and determined that the worms had generally moved south. -Western Missouri.
“Since they’re new to our area, we don’t know the extent of what this will mean,” McGowan said.
There could be negative consequences, but they are still unknown, McGowan said.
Speaking with people who have spotted the invasive planaria, McGowan said many have recently brought a load of soil or purchased plants from the nursery.
“I suspect they were accidentally introduced here in the ground, into plants that were potted in other states and then shipped here, and these worms hitchhiked,” McGowan said.
Although they are not native to the Ozarks, hammer worms adapt and acclimatize.
“They survive our winters; they reproduce and their population begins to grow, ”said McGowan.
Hammerworms leave a trail of mucus and excrement that helps them slide off, McGowan previously said in a MU Extension article. Worms produce sexually by laying eggs and asexually by fragmenting and growing new heads and tails when cut into pieces.
If you find a planarian with a hammer-shaped head, McGowan supported Serfass’s actions: pour salt on it.