Hammerhead worms can harm you and your pets if you touch, eat, or chop them.
(WGMB) – BATON ROUGE, La. – There's a bug that's harmless to plants but could be dangerous to humans and animals, and it's found in many places where the temperature is getting warmer.
Hammerhead worms are native to Southeast Asia and like hot, humid environments. According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute's (TISI) website, they thrive in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
They're also prevalent in greenhouses and other areas with "hot, humid surroundings," according to the TISI.
So, where did hammerhead worms originate, and how did they make their way to the United States?
The worms may have arrived in the United States through the soil of ornamental plants, according to Louisiana State University Assistant Professor Nathan P. Lord, Ph.D. These worms hitchhiked to the United States and can now be found in climates that are similar to their native environment.
They can also be a little risky.
To begin with, earthworms should be on the lookout since hammerhead worms regard them as prey. Humans and pets, on the other hand, should be cautious.
They actually create a pretty horrible poison for paralyzing the earthworm prey, so there's definitely the risk of harming people and pets if eaten or touched, Lord said.
Anyone who sees a hammerhead worm or comes into contact with one is urged to put on gloves, avoid handling them with bare skin, and, of course, avoid eating them. Anyone who comes into contact with a hammerhead flatworm should wash their hands with hot soapy water, rinse with alcohol, and/or apply hand disinfectant, according to the TISI.
If you see one of these worms and feel compelled to destroy it, think about your options: You should not attempt to chop up the hammerhead worms, according to the TISI, as this will just result in more hammerhead worms.
The TISI adds, Reproduction appears to be predominantly accomplished through fragmentation: a little rear piece of the worm will pinch off and'stay behind' as the worm goes ahead.
The head begins to form in around 10 days, and this may happen a few times a month.
"Specialized cells" allow the worms to regenerate parts of their bodies, or sometimes even full new bodies from a small piece of the original worm, according to Lord.
Both Lord and Mississippi State University's Dr. Blake Layton advised sprinkling salt on the hammerhead worms. If the worms are exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time, they may dry out.
Squishing them is likely to do enough harm to kill them, Lord added if everything else fails.