(WJW) – An invasive and carnivorous worm is in Northeast Ohio.
How common the hammerhead worm is across the state isn’t clear, but there have been two recent reports – one in Portage County and one in Trumbull County.
So just what are they? And what should you do if you find one?
Hammerhead worms secrete a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin.
They use it to immobilize prey.
Tetrodotoxin is the same toxin produced by pufferfish, according to the North Carolina State University extension office.
While they are invasive, hard to kill and kind of creepy, they are not toxic to humans or animals.
They can be particularly damaging to agriculture because they prey on earthworms.
“They sort of wrap themselves around them (insects), and they digest them from the inside out and they basically drink the digested organism like a Slurpee,” Chris Carlton, Director Emeritus at the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center, told USA Today.
Hammerhead worms can also eat their prey by penetrating it with a tube-like mouth that comes out of their body.
Their mouth is on the underside of the body near the middle of the animal. They also eat slugs, insects and snails.
Earthworms are crucial to soil health.
If a hammerhead worm population grew too large, it could affect crops.
According to Lee Beers with the OSU Trumbull County extension office, this is the first year they’ve had reports of the hammerhead worm in the area.
“We don’t really know what the long-term impacts are,” he told FOX 8.
What to look for
There are several varieties of hammerhead worms. However, they are typically a honey-brown color. They can grow longer than a foot.
The Texas Invasive Species Institute reports the body as “snake-like.”
The hammerhead worm, like the shark, has a flat head that extends on the sides. They are active at night and after rain.
They like moist soil and are most likely to be found in dark, moist areas, under leaves, compost or boards, according to Carlton.
Where did they come from?
Hammerhead worms are native to Southeast Asia. They’re believed to have been in the U.S. since the 1900s.
Hammerhead worms likely hitched a ride in the soil of plants headed for America or hiding in other landscaping supplies.
Are they really immortal?
No, but they are hard to kill and can easily reproduce.
They cannot be cut up.
Hammerhead worms can regrow whatever parts they need, so if you chop them into tiny pieces, you’ll have lots of little hammerhead worms.
Their biology is unique. The worms have both male and female reproductive organs, and asexual reproduction is very common, according to the North Carolina State University Extension Office.
They can also mate and lay cocoons.
What to do if you find one
Take a picture to send to your local extension office.
Put the worms in a container. You can then kill them with salt, which will dry them up, or vinegar.
Then you can throw them away in the container.
Beers recommends rubbing alcohol as well. He says you can squirt it right on them in the garden and they’ll die.
If you do pick them up, Beers says it is best to wear gloves.
He says some people can be sensitive to their toxins.
FOX 8 has reached out to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio State University Extension Office for more details on the prevalence of hammerhead worms in Ohio.