PARAGOULD — After a hammerhead worm was reported in Greene County recently, Extension officials are reminding area residents that the invasive species is now part of the makeup of the state’s ecosystem.
“It’s nothing for folks to be alarmed about,” Greene County Extension Staff Chair Lance Blythe said Thursday. “It’s just something to be aware of.”
In a September 2021 press release, the University of Arkansas Extension Service reported that the worms had been confirmed in at least 10 counties.
Jon Zawislak, extension apiarist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said in the 2021 release that hammerhead worms tend to prefer climates like those found in Arkansas.
“The worms are thought to have been accidentally transported in soil through the global horticultural trade,” Zawislak said. “These flatworms prefer warm climates and feel right at home in the southeastern United States.”
The most visually distinctive characteristic of these worms is their broad, spade‐shaped head. They are light-colored, with one to five dark, thin dorsal stripes. These worms are carnivorous and will prey on insect larvae, slugs, snails and various earthworm species.
Many species of hammerhead worms contain a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which they use to immobilize their prey and defend against predators. This is the same toxin found in pufferfish and a few other animals.
When they secrete this substance, it can irritate your skin if handled, and will sicken pets if eaten. As a precaution, gardeners should never handle these worms without gloves.
“Like many other planarians, if cut into pieces, these creatures can regenerate each part into a whole fully‐developed worm within a couple of weeks,” Zawislak said. “If injured, they can quickly regenerate damaged tissue. These worms regularly break off pieces of their tails as they move along, leaving a bit behind to become a new worm. This ability likely contributes to their success in colonizing new habitats.”