DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Researchers this week discovered that the hammerhead flatworm, an invasive species threatening our environment, isn't just present in North Texas, but widespread here.
The Texas Invasive Species Institute at Sam Houston State University is crediting a viral Facebook post for prompting people to report sightings of the worm.
"After the post that shared last week, I'm 100 percent certain they are well established in the north Texas area," said Ashley Morgan-Olvera, the institute's director.
Debbie Meyers-Shock whose Facebook post shared more than 72,000 times says she copied the information from a post on Nextdoor. Sheryl May, who originally wrote the warning to her neighbors on Nextdoor was surprised to learn how widespread her message travelled.
"To be honest I knew nothing about the Southeast Asian Hammerhead Flatworm. I just knew it was strange looking when I found it and picked it up," she said.
She took videos of the worm she'd discovered in her backyard in Far North Dallas and reached out to Morgan-Olvera to learn more.
Knowing she had a lot of gardeners in her neighborhood, she posted what she'd learned on Nextdoor, encouraging others to notify Morgan-Olvera if they saw one.
Suddenly reports began flooding in from people who were spotting the distinct-looking footlong worm with a flat half moon head.
She'd received about 20 reports of the worm in North Texas before this week when reports started flooding in.
"Easily 300 reports since that post and they're still coming in," she said.
The worms are originally from Southeast Asia, but have spread across the globe.
"Their main diet is earthworms, so that's why they're such a big threat," explained Morgan-Olvera. "If you remove earthworms from our environment, our plants can't break down soil like that so then everything will start to get choked off."
The worms excrete a chemical as a defense mechanism that can irritate your skin if you touch it with your bare hands. It's bad for your pets, too.
"We really don't want your animals to eat them," said Morgan-Olvera. "Because they'll make the animal throw it back up and it can leave the animal feeling sick afterwards."
If you see one of the worms, she suggests using a stick or paper towel to pick it up. You can toss it into a plastic bag filled with salt, seal it tightly, and then throw it in the trash.
"Don't… don't cut it up. They will regrow," said Morgan-Olvera.
Each piece she warns can become a new worm.
"I have gotten some reports where people say 'I cut the head off' and I'll say 'alright. Thank you, but please go find the rest of the animal because that headless segment is going to grow a new head'," she said.
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