United Sates – A slimy looking flatworm has been spotted for the first time ever and is likely to spread all over the country, a new scientific research states. New Guinea flatworm or a more complex name Platydemus manokwari, has been reported in many places in the Pacific Area and France.
These are the first time reports of it having being spotted in mainland U.S., in Florida, the first record in the Caribbean, additional localities including islands in the Pacific area, Puerto Rico. It is considered such a threatening invasive species that it is the only land planarian in the100 worst invasive alien species list.
It’s very flat, it’s two inches long and less than a quarter inch wide. It’s black and olive in color with a stripe down its back; it has an elongated head with big black eyes and mouth in the middle of its belly. Although on first glance it just seems a harmless ground-dwelling worm, in fact it can climb trees, which it does to eat snails, and eat them it does. The New Guinea flatworm consumes snails with voracity and endangers endemic species.
An international research effort in to the spread of this invasive species was made up of 14 co-authors from eight countries and was led by Jean-Lou Justine of the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity, Paris, France (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle / CNRS / UPMC / EPHE). Their findings are published today in the Open Access Journal, PeerJ.
Scientists took Specimens of the flatworm from various territories and identified them by their characteristic appearance, a histological study and molecular analysis of the gene Cytochrome Oxidase Type I (which is often used to characterize animals). As a result, the species is now reported in additional countries and territories in the Pacific, including New Caledonia (mainland and Loyalty Islands), Tahiti (French Polynesia), Wallis and Futuna, Singapore, and theSolomon Islands, as well as in San Juan (Puerto Rico) and several gardens in Miami, Fla.
Two haplotypes (genetic variants) of the Cytochrome Oxidase Type I sequence were detected: the ‘World haplotype’ found in France, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Singapore, Puerto Rico and Florida; and the ‘Australian haplotype’ found in Australia. The only locality with both haplotypes was in the Solomon Islands. The country of origin of Platydemus manokwari is New Guinea, and Australia and the Solomon Islands are the countries closest to New Guinea from which the researchers had specimens. This suggest that two haplotypes exist in the area of origin of the species, but that only one of the two haplotypes (the ‘World haplotype’) has, through human agency, been widely dispersed.
New Guinea flatworm’s appearance in Florida is of particular concern. Up till now this species was found on islands and island to island spread is limited. However now that they have been reported in Florida their spread will not be limited because it is in mainland America, it could easily spread naturally or through infested plants, plant parts or soil. A potential threat to the whole of U.S.
The full paper about the flatworm invading the USA is titled “The invasive land planarian Platydemus manokwari (Platyhelminthes, Geoplanidae): records from six new localities, including the first in the USA” and has been published on peerj.