The New Guinea Flatworm have been slithering into neighborhoods in Cape Coral. Biologists warn: if you touch one of these slimy critters, you might have an allergic reaction.
“They carry a parasite that can potentially be hazardous to humans,” Dr. Joyce Fassbender said, who is a biology instructor at Florida Gulf Coast University. “On a positive note, a parasite isn’t found in many of them. And in order to actually get the parasite, you would have to eat the worm.”
The New Guinea Flatworm’s scientific name is Platydemus manokwari. It is native to the island of New Guinea, which is located right off of the continent of Australia.
One of the first reported sightings of the New Guinea Flatworm in America was in 2012.
The flatworm is usually found in flower pots and gardens. More recently, people in Cape Coral were concerned when they found New Guinea Flatworms on their lanais.
The dark brown worms are about two inches long, half of an inch wide and two millimeters thick. Its ends are pointy and it has a light color belly.
If one crosses your path, take a picture and call the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission. The conservation is trying to keep tabs of where the invasive species show up because they are a threat to our ecosystem.
“They actually destroy our native species and a lot of the native species that they eat are actually beneficial to our gardens,” Dr. Fassbender said.
Worms are essential to rich vegetation. As they squiggle through soil and process it in their system, worms produce a variety of micronutrients.
"You don't just get those from Miracle-Gro," Roxanne Moore said, who is the manager of Green Leaf Worm Farm in Cape Coral. "Plants love it -- it's what they need."
The worm farm primary sells African Night Crawlers to small commercial businesses and recreational gardeners. Those worms provide a positive benefit to soil and naturally reproduce themselves.
The New Guinea Flatworm, on the other hand, will attack young worms, impeding population growth in the soil that is shared with other worm species, such as the African Night Crawlers.
"As far as the worm industry," Moore, 76, said, "you don't want the New Guinea Flatworm at all."
Dr. Fassbender, the FGCU biology instructor, said that because the New Guinea Flatworms are parasitic, harmful, and can cause an allergic reaction if touched, it would be a good idea to kill them.
The best way to get rid of the worms is to douse them with hot water. The water should be 110 degrees or hotter. You can use salt, but you want to be mindful of your plants.
“Don’t smash it,” Dr. Fassbender suggested.
“If you smash it, it might break into multiple pieces and that actually is one of the ways these types of worms can reproduce,” she said.