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Experts have issued a warning after killer flatworms have been found in the UK. The killer worms pose a risk to some native earthworm species as well as the soil ecosystem as they are said to ‘wrap around them and dissolve them into pink gloop’.

The hammerhead worms measure around 3cm long and could be a danger to British species that gardeners and farmers rely on. Flatworms can kill common garden insects, including snails and earthworms. Scientists warn they could become an invasive species, reports Glasgow Live.

The trade of imported plants is already said to be responsible for the spread of more than 10 species of flatworms around the world from their native Asia with one type having been found in France and Italy, the other on an island near Africa, said to threaten biodiversity in gardens and farms, according to scientists, reported The Mirror.

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The flatworms could be a risk to snails and native earthworms
The flatworms could be a risk to snails and native earthworms

Another type of flatworm has reportedly been found in Scotland. Someone shared a photo of a New Zealand flatworm, which can be up to 17cm long. Taking to Instagram, Gabrielle Reith, who lives in Scotland, wrote: “UK folks… if you find a worm in your garden that looks like this, then please kill them!

“They are the invasive New Zealand flatworm and kill our earthworms by wrapping around them and dissolving them into pink gloop!

“They hide under rocks or weedblock during the day so search there and check the bottom of pots when you buy any plants. Kill them by squishing or dropping into salt. Don’t touch with bare hands as the excretion can aggravate skin!

“I don’t like killing anything but make an exception for these! We sadly have them in our garden now and the neighbouring farmyard seems to be ground zero.”

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have said there are approximately 17 non-native species of land flatworms in Britain and four that are native.

Flatworms can be found in “shady and wet places” on the soil surface e.g. under pots, containers, tarpaulins, and leaf litter. The lack of earthworms they are responsible for often goes unnoticed.

The RHS have also said that “the majority of the non-native flatworm species prey on earthworms, slugs, snails and other soil organisms”. They added: “Australian and New Zealand flatworms are two species that have become established and widespread in Britain and Ireland. Both species specialise on earthworms and they can severely reduce the populations of some earthworm species and consequently affect the soil ecosystem.

“However, several other species had been accidentally introduced including two Kontikia species and there is evidence that non-native flatworms continue to be introduced including the Obama flatworm.”

Replying to the comments one Instagram user said: “Found one under a garden pot the other week and didn’t know what it was (thought at first a shell-less snail). Away to see if I can find it again and get rid now I know what it is.”

Discussing the New Zealand flatworm, they add: “[The worm] reaches 20cm (8in) in length and is dark brown with a paler margin. It arrived in Britain, probably with imported plants, during the 1960s and it has since become widely distributed. It feeds exclusively on earthworms and is capable of reducing earthworm populations.

“This has undesirable effects on soil structure and also denies earthworms as a food resource for those native animals that feed on them. This flatworm originates from New Zealand and is now thriving in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.”

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