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Invasive Flatworm Found On Sanibel Indicates Statewide Spread

Shinji Sugiura
Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE: If you think you've spotted  a New Guinea flatworm in your area, the recommendation is to not touch it, take a picture of it and report it to state wildlife officials at 888-IVE-GOT1.

An invasive flatworm could potentially threaten wildlife, and even people in Southwest Florida. The New Guinea Flatworm was first found in the state near Miami more than a year ago. Now, they’ve popped up in Cape Coral, and most recently, Sanibel Island. 

New Guinea Flatworms are blackish and resemble leeches. Florida International University Biologist Tim Collins said flatworms have been discovered in the shells of deceased or dying native land snails. He said that’s a problem because these snails are already disappearing.

Credit Alicie Warren
Researchers in Florida found a New Guinea flatworm in the shell of a dead native land snail, which could indicate a problem for the local snail population.

"Development, other kinds of non-native things have been introduced, loss of habitat-- all these sorts of things are affecting our native land snails," said Collins ."And this is just another challenge for them."

He said New Guinea flatworms caused the extinction of native land snails in other parts of the world. But Collins said the flatworms threaten more than just Florida’s environment.

"These things can carry the rat lung worm, which is something that can be transmitted to humans," he said. "If you become infected, it can burrow into the meninges of the brain causing a kind of encephalitis."

That’s why he said people should not touch them. But there is no indication that the flatworms found in Florida are carrying harmful rat lung worms right now. Collins is trying to get funding to study the spread of New Guinea flatworms across the state.