It’s a Worm…It’s a Slug… It’s a WHAT?

Uncovered this Flatworm while gathering firewood

My head is ready to explode since I’m still reeling from this week’s debacle involving the partnering of National Wildlife Federation with Scotts Miracle Gro. In order to regain my sanity, it is time to revert back to enjoy the oft-unexpected findings in my Beautiful Wildlife Garden. New critters always clear my mind…once I figure out what they heck they are.

I was out gathering firewood two weeks back when Holopaw had its big two-hour freeze. Firewood piles always produce a most interesting assortment of critters which is why I always wear gloves…hey, there are widow spiders in them thar logs. I filled my planter tub to drag the logs to the door and decided to rearrange some remaining logs so they would dry out better. I grabbed one and placed it up top in the full sun. Looking down at the next layer, there was this interesting bright white worm with a black stripe, the likes of which I’d never seen before. Grabbing the camera, I clicked away. Upon examination of the photos, the mystery critter appeared to be munching on beetles.

Sitting down at my trusty computer I tapped away…”white worm black stripe” into the search engine over at Hmmm, no results. OK, I guess you are not an insect. Off to Goodsearch…might as well earn a little cash for FNPS while I work. I try “white worm black stripe”. Many results but nothing seems decisive in the result headlines. I try AVG search “white slug black stripe Florida”. EUREKA! I see a listing with a headline “Detailed information on Hammerhead Worm”. Describes it perfectly.

The hammerhead looking end appears to be the end that eats

My friend is a Land Planarian, specifically, a Kew Greenhouse Flatworm (Bipalium kewense), a member of the Platyhelminthes Phylum that includes flatworms, tapeworms and flukes. They can grow to be 8-10 inches long. I read further to discover some consider them as beneficial predators who devour slugs, insect larvae and earthworms. Insect larvae?…good or bad, depending on species. Slugs? starting to sound like a keeper. Earthworms?…DRAT…not a good thing. Well, we all have our bad sides, so time to explore further.

The Land Planarian is believed to be native to Indo-China. Ut oh, an alien in our midst. It doesn’t seem to have any predators apparently because of the icky secretions that it’s covered in and adhere to the ground as it moves along looking like a slug mucus trail. They need humidity and like dark, cool, moist areas under rocks, debris, or in my case firewood.

It looked like it might have been eating beetle larvae and adults

I won’t get into the workings of this critter in catching and devouring its prey. The technical terms made my head hurt. If they get into an earthworm-farming situation they can cause economic devastation, but in a small garden situation, well, most of what I read is that they don’t require control, as the populations remain small and they are harmless. On a good note, they are carnivorous so eventually eat each other. Self-IPM, I like that!

Thus, my recommendations: if you are an earthworm farmer, get rid of these guys, but don’t rely on cutting them up to destroy them. Reproduction of Land Planarians is principally by fragmentation so a part you leave may just suddenly crawl away as a new flatworm. I suppose drying them out would work and I always have deadly results from freezing various exotic invasives.

Any stalker of slugs is a friend of mine

If you are just a typical wildlife gardener such as myself, they are not toxic, so rather harmless. And hey, it was an interesting find that it was stalking slugs and eating beetles that might have traveled in with the logs for the fireplace. I hate beetles in the house, so Mr. Hammerhead gets to live at my place. That, and when I went back to the woodpile it was no where to be found.

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  1. says

    You know I have so many metaphors swimming in my head..exotic creature (Scotts) feeding on beneficial earthworms (NWF)…OK I’ll leave it alone…ick was my reaction to this exotic…probably too cold in my yard for him…I do love meeting the creatures in your gardens Loret!

    • says

      Ursula! I just was looking back at the top photo and I think that the other critters may be millipedes, not beetles since they seem to have more legs than I noticed at first. I did see actual beetles scurrying around when I lifted the log, tho.

      If I find another of my white with stripe friends, want me to ship him to ya to take care of your invaders? ;)

      Truth is, according to Entomology Dept in Gainsville they apparently don’t ship well.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Wildlife Charity Contributions -–Act Local

  2. says

    Ah ha,

    So it was a flatworm that I found in my yard last year. I did not get a pic (shame on me) and I never found out what it was. It was not the land Planarium, for sure.

    You also reminded me that we love earthworms so much, even though 33% of them in N America are invasive.

    Another fascinating complexity of our interactions within this world.

    Thanks for the great personal story and info, Loret!


    David Bourne recently posted..What Makes Incredible Imagery Even Better? A Story.

    • says


      Always appreciate you taking the time to comment. That’s a new-to-me fact about earthworms (not many found down here in hot, sand country).

      As for camera shame, I always have my point and shoot camera in my pocket when I walk around the property…won’t even take the trash out without it close by. Some of my most interesting finds are when I’m not actually looking, and I’ve kicked myself more than once in the past when I wasn’t prepared in my papparazzi mode.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Wildlife Charity Contributions -–Act Local

  3. says

    Flatworm, tapeworms, and flukes OH MY! This is a family that must be loaded with inner beauty because I just can’t see it on the outside. A ten inch flatworm is just a little too much inner beauty for me. It has given me another reason to appreciate the cold winter here.

  4. says

    Either the slug is huge, or the planarian is tiny. We do have them, but I think I was introduced to one as a zoology student, then, once found one in the garden. A rare little animal, and rather fascinating as it skims along like a hydrofoil.

  5. Heather says

    I live in northern Ca and I used to see these in my yard all the time. Though ours must be a different kind because everything I’ve read about them says they can be 10 inches or longer. I have never seen one over 2 inches and that was a biggun lol. Also, I’ve seen two different kinds, one is yellow with a hammer head and one is black with a pointy head. But they both act similar. When I first started seeing them I thought they were interesting so I picked it up with a stick and put it on the pavement so I could watch it. When u try to pick them up they get all sticky and pick up all the dirt around them. Then when on the pavement all dirty they crawl right out coming out all clean leaving a perfect ball of dirt. I watched them for months, every time I saw one would put it on the sidewalk to watch it crawl out of the dirt ball. Pretty crazy. However I haven’t seen one for a good year now and we’ve had lots of rain too. Don’t know why I saw so many of them that one year and none whatsoever now. As for them eating the earthworms, these things that I saw were tiny. If they tried to go up against one of the earthworms in my yard they’d lose. Seriously there are some huge earthworms in my yard. Idk maybe they eat the babies but from what I’ve seen they have not affected the earthworm population in my yard at all. Hope thy really eat slugs tho cuz I hate slugs! Ugh!

    • says

      Thanks for your story Heather. I haven’t seen any since this encounter, but I’m intrigued by your experience, so next time I do, I’m going to be trying to get it covered in dirt so I can see it clean itself off. It sounds like a fun experiment. Thanks for stopping by.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Those Dastardly Bluebirds

  6. Val says

    Just got done cleaning up part of the horse’s corral/collecting fertilizer, and found one of these little buggers. Lived here 16 years, and this is my first time seeing one. I will leave it, as I hate the slugs in my garden, and if it has a purpose so be it! Not a whole lot of earth worms to begging with. I live in eastern Collier/middle of nowhere ;-). Now I know what this thing is.

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