The arrival of the New Zealand flat worm in the UK, beware!
You may have already read our blog about the importance of the earth worm for UK soil aeration and quality (http://www.stewartsturf.com/blog/earthworms-friend-or-foe), but unfortunately they are threatened by the arrival of the New Zealand flat worm, thought to have smuggled itself into the country on the underside of a leaf from a contaminated plant import, using its sticky mucus to bond itself to an out of site surface waiting for its opportunity to slither away and feast on our delicious English earth worms.
New Zealand Flatworm. Photo credit The Telegraph
Will this new pest upset the balance of nature in the UK?
But the question is, should we be worried about their impact on our worm population which are so important for the health of our soils and therefore posing a threat to all of our famous gardens and parkland?
The flat worms sole food is earthworms. They can be found in compost heaps, plant pots, in the roots of containerised plants and stuck to the bottom of silage bails, which, as we all know, are also popular hang outs for our own earth worms. They hunt for their prey in garden lawns, which is where they will find the worms doing their job of feeding on, and aerating the soil.
They have a slightly macabre way of immobilising and eating their pray, which is to wrap around them tightly using their sticky mucus as an enzyme to break down the earth worm from the outside in and them feeding on the liquid that is left behind after this process.
There is also concern about the native birdlife and other animals that feed on the earthworms such as blackbirds, hedgehogs, shrews, moles and thrushes. Although the fears of a flat worm annihilation of earth worms seem to have not been confirmed through actual events, as there are still a lot of earth worms about and I can confirm this by the amount I have seen on the top of turf stacks in the field! And for all we know, there could be other insects out there that enjoy the rather unappetising appeal of the flat worm, such as centipedes and frogs.
The flat worms stick to the same sort of climates in which they are known to live in New Zealand, which is the colder wetter climes of the north of the UK (similar to the South Island of NZ), although the Australian flat worm, a smaller lighter coloured worm, has been spotted in the isle of Scilly and the South West coast of the UK.
For those of you reading this that do not know what a New Zealand flat worm looks like, they are about 20cm long, flattened and covered in a sticky mucus. The main colour is dark purple brown with a speckled pale yellow margin. The spend most of their time curled up in a spiral.
Our advice to anyone who sees a flat worm in their garden is to take a photograph and let us know so that we are able to notify the relevant authorities on the matter who are trying to track the spread and impact of these worms on the environment. We would also ask you to dispose of the worm if possible.