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France Is Being Invaded By An 'Invasive Alien Species', And Scientists Are Perplexed

Strange little creatures are invading France, and now scientists are scrambling to figure out what to do about it. Giant hammerhead flatworms are taking over, wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem and raising alarms.

Hopefully they'll figure out how to handle the situation, because the same worms could make their way across Europe. They've also been found in Central America, and even in the U.S.

Several species of the giant flatworms have been slithering into France. The worms range from about 12 inches to 18 inches long, and have pointed, flat heads, much like a hammerhead shark. They come in various shades of brown and blue. They first began coming in 1999 but largely went unnoticed until they started to pose a serious threat.

LiveScience says the worm, part of the Diversibipalium genus, look like 'earthworms on steroids'. The worms eat organisms in the soil. This could seriously upset the balance of nature, interfering with the life cycle of the local flora, which can then end up presenting a problem for animals.

The worms are predators, but there are no predators that eat the flatworms. Because of this, the worms are thriving. Jean-Lou Justine, a researcher from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris who is concerned about the worms, told Fox News that the worms give off an unpleasant taste. This causes other species to avoid them.

The worms are thriving because of this, and it doesn’t help that they can reproduce asexually. They do reproduce sexually in the wild when they are able, however when they are cut off from the wild or from others of their species they can reproduce by having a piece of their tail severed. The tail remnant will then regenerate and become a whole new worm.

"The present findings strongly suggest that the species present in Metropolitan France and overseas territories should be considered invasive alien species," read a study by Justine, Leigh Winsor, Delphine Gey, Pierre Gros and Jessica Thévenot.

"Our numerous records in the open in Metropolitan France raise questions: as scientists, we were amazed that these long and brightly colored worms could escape the attention of scientists and authorities in a European developed country for such a long time; improved awareness about land planarians is certainly necessary."

Justine became interested when he got a photo of a worm from a farmer. At the time, he insisted that such worms do not exist in France. He thought the photo was a prank.

The worm species is native to Asia and thrives in warmer weather. Justine looked into the situation and realized that it wasn't any joke. Since then, some 111 records of the flathead worms have been made.

While France is currently concerned about the invasion of the worms, they’re not the only place threatened by the creatures. The invasive species, if not contained, can make their way into other European nations. In addition, they’ve been spotted on La Réunion island in Central America, and in parts of Florida in the U.S.

Archie Murchie, from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in England, says that the worms will likely continue to spread. “The species are cryptic and soil-dwelling so can be easily overlooked, which often explains their inadvertent shipment round the world,” he explains, noting that due to flatworm invasions, crop yields are already beginning to decrease.

Source: Fox News
Photos: Live Science, Strange Animals, Science Mag

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