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Science and the Environment

“Voracious, Top-Level Predator” Found In Springfield Home Gardens

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MU Extension
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Two Springfield gardeners have reported finding an unusual worm in their yards.  The hammerhead worm appears to be new to the area, according to MU Extension horticulturalist, Kelly McGowan.  The largest specimen reported to McGowan was a foot long.  And, as their name implies, their heads are shaped like hammers.

McGowan says the concerning thing about hammerhead worms being found here is that not a lot is known about them yet.  She refers to the worm as "a voracious, top-level predator."

“We do know that they feed on earthworms and other organisms that live in the soil, but we don’t know what their presence is going to do to kind of the soil biome.  You know, if they eat a lot of our native soil organisms, is that going to have an effect on soil health?  Do they have excretions that are harmful to soil health?—things like that,” she said.

They belong to a family of flatworms called land planariums.

The first specimen was reported by a Springfield homeowner last year who found the worm in a garden in her front yard.  This year she found them in a backyard garden, which leads McGowan to believe they’re spreading.  Another Springfield homeowner reported finding one this year.

Hammerhead worms produce a slimy trail that they leave behind as they move.  They belong to a family of flat worms called land planariums.  And they reproduce both sexually and asexually.

"You know, they can grow, and this is pretty creepy, but they can grow a new tail or a new head depending on what part breaks off," she said.

The hammerhead worm is believed to have been brought to the U.S. in the soil of potted plants.  McGowan suggests dumping a purchased plant into a wheelbarrow before planting it to look for the presence of hammerhead worms in the soil.  If you find any, she wants you to contact her at (417) 881-8909.