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article imageDeadly invasive New Guinea flatworm spreading in Florida

By Karen Graham     Jul 30, 2016 in Environment
Cape Coral - The invasive and deadly New Guinea flatworm, first reported in Miami, Florida in June 2015, has now spread to the state's southwestern coast. Specimens of the land-dwelling predators have been found in Cape Coral.
The invasive worm has now got the attention of state and local officials who have just started an investigation, even though the worms were seen in June of last year in Miami. It is believed the predatory flatworm was brought into the U.S. hidden in plants and tropical fruits.
The flatworm, properly called Platydemus manokwari, is fairly large, averaging between 40-65 millimeters (1.4 to 3.5 inches) in length and about four to seven millimeters (o.2 to 0.3 inches) in width. Both ends of the worm come to a point, with the head being more pointed than the tail, with two eyes right on the tip of the head.
Platydemus manokwari. The head is on the right. Locality: Ogasawara Islands  Japan.
Platydemus manokwari. The head is on the right. Locality: Ogasawara Islands, Japan.
Shinji Sugiura
They are generally brown to a murky olive color with a pale underside and a distinctive dorsal orange stripe down the center of their back. It's sort of hard to mistake these creatures for anything else.
The New Guinea flatworm is native to New Guinea but has accidentally been introduced into the soil of many countries, including France and the U.S. most recently. The invasive worm poses a threat to local ecosystems because it can devastate native soil invertebrates.
The flatworm has a particularly gruesome way of eating its prey. The mouth is in the middle of its belly, on the ventral side, so when it wants to eat a snail, a protruding white, cylindrical pharynx is inserted into the body of the prey and it is then sucked into the worm.
The flatworm is preying on a snail: it has been disturbed  thus showing the white cylindrical pharyn...
The flatworm is preying on a snail: it has been disturbed, thus showing the white cylindrical pharynx on the ventral side, protruding and ingesting soft tissues of the snail.
Pierre Gros
There is cause for alarm because of the flatworm's predatory nature. They feed primarily on small land snails, as well as various soil invertebrates, such as earthworms, slugs, and arthropods. The worm is persistent in tracking down its prey, going so far as to climb up a tree to get at a snail.
From alarm to a serious threat to humans
The flatworm has no known predators. Birds won't eat them because of the worm's nasty taste, and generally, it has been said that they pose no threat to humans. But this isn't entirely true. Florida health and environmental officials are alarmed because the flatworm is a paratenic host for the nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis, also known as the rat lungworm.
Paratenic describes a host that is not necessary for the development of a particular species of parasite. Basically, this means the parasite does not undergo any changes in the stages of its development while inside the host, or in this case, the New Guinea flatworm.
Adult female worm of Angiostrongylus cantonensis recovered from rat lungs with characteristic barber...
Adult female worm of Angiostrongylus cantonensis recovered from rat lungs with characteristic barber-pole appearance (anterior end of worm is to the top). Scale bar = 1 mm.
. Emerging Infectious Diseases
This makes Platydemus manokwari a vector of the parasite. A. cantonensis parasitizes humans and causes angiostrongyliasis. Roy Beckford, an agriculture agent in Lee County who works with the University of Florida says the worm can infect rats, and that is particularly worrisome, reports local Fox affiliate WFTX.
"If you have long worms (angiostrongyliasis), basically you start this horrible coughing. It's a parasite in your lungs that needs to be treated," says Beckford. He also says that if you see one, don't touch it. “It can actually cause problems on your skin because it actually vomits up this caustic substance than can cause problems."
More about flatworm, Invasive species, New Guinea flatworm, infect humans, Rat lungworm
 
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