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Invasive hammerhead worm could make its way to Austin after all that rain

A worm has a half-moon-shaped head and stripes on its back.
Scott Loarie
Wikimedia Commons
The species of worm Bipalium kewense frequents warm, damp environments and is known for its half-moon-shaped head.

An invasive hammerhead flatworm spotted in Houston last week could make its way to Austin soon because of all the rain.

This worm (its scientific name is Bipalium kewense) frequents warm, damp environments and is known for its half-moon-shaped head, like a hammerhead shark's.

The soft-bodied invertebrate has skin that causes irritation to those who handle it, as a form of protection. The worm can cause rashes on people and be poisonous for pets. These hammerhead worms eat earthworms, which are good for soil.

“It's usually associated around flower beds and landscaping things and is very abundant right after rains,” said Ana Christensen, a biology professor at Lamar University. “So having had lots of rain here recently, they are being out, being active.”

These worms were first found in the South in the 1900s. But Christensen said that the amount of rain Texas has seen this year and social media are making folks more aware of them.

The flat, tan-colored worms have black stripes that run down the length of their body. They range anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in length.

If you see one after the rain these past few days, Christensen said don’t run and try to kill it by stepping on it. These worms reproduce by fragmentation. That means, if it splits in half, both ends can regrow into a new worm.

Here's what Christensen recommends: Pick up the entire worm, with gloves on, and put it in a Ziploc bag. Fill the bag with salt water or vinegar and let the worm sit in the bag until it dies. Then, throw the whole bag away.

Before trying to get rid of the worm, try to send a picture of it to the Texas Invasive Species Institute. TISI is tracking where the worms are being spotted around the state to get a better understanding of where they like to hang around.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
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