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Two new species of worm could invade world and cause serious damage

Scientists have discovered two new invaders which could wreak havoc on native plant and animal species.


Humbertium covidum, an invasive hammerhead worm found in Italy. (Pierre Gros via SWNS)

By Tom Campbell via SWNS

Two new species of worm from Europe and Africa could invade the rest of the world and cause serious damage, warns a new study.

The hammerhead flatworms have managed to fly under the radar as they are much smaller than other species which can measure more than three feet long.

Globalization has helped invasive animal and plant species jump from one country to the next, with disastrous consequences, in some cases.

So far, more than 10 species of flatworms are known to have burrowed their way around the world, piggybacking off the plant trade.

These include Obama nungara, originally from Argentina, Platydemus manokwari from New Guinea, and Bipalium kewense from Southeast Asia.

The alien species threaten their new homes’ biodiversity and prey on other soil dwellers like earthworms, slugs and snails.

Diversibipalium mayottensis, an invasive species of worm found in the Mayotte archipelago in the Indian Ocean ( Laurent Charles via SWNS)

Now scientists have discovered two new invaders which could wreak havoc on native plant and animal species.

Author Professor Jean-Lou Justine at the National History Museum in Paris said: "Due to the pandemic, during the lockdowns most of us were home, with our laboratory closed.

"No field expeditions were possible.

"I convinced my colleagues to gather all the information we had about these flatworms, do the computer analyses, and finally write this very long paper.

"We decided to name one of the species “covidum," paying homage to the victims of the pandemic.”

Hammerhead flatworms can grow up to 3.2 feet long [1 meter] and have distinctively broader heads compared to other species.

The first species, named Humbertium covidum, was discovered in two gardens on the Atlantic side of the French Pyrenees and the Italian region of Veneto.

It measures around 1.2″ [30mm] long and is uniformly metallic black, an unusual color among hammerhead flatworms.

Genetic analysis of its intestines revealed the new species enjoyed snacking on small snails and was likely to originate from Asia.

The second new species, named Diversibipalium mayottensism, was discovered on the French island of Mayotte, located in the Mozambique Channel of the Indian Ocean.

It also measures just 1.2″ but has a spectacular green-blue iridescence over a brown earth color.

Analysis showed the colorful species was a sister-group of all other hammerhead flatworms, making it of special interest for understanding its evolution.

It's believed to have originated from Madagascar and been brought to Mayotte by people in the past.

The two new species could potentially spread to other parts of the world and pose a major threat to their biodiversity, the researchers say.

This could in turn impact the local economy, by damaging crop yields and increasing management costs.

The findings were published in the Open Access journal PeerJ.

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