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 bugguide.net. 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.
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.
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.
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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