Hammerhead flatworms not only sound and look like aliens, but they also act like them, spreading over the world as invasive species in some places. A new research describes two new species that have appeared in Europe and Africa, one of which is named after the COVID-19 epidemic. You might be wondering how something without limbs, legs, or a working knowledge of public transportation can spread so quickly, but the explanation is simple: the plant trade. Yes, these wriggly nomads have been stowing away in the plant babies that are distributed to green-minded people and lovers.
In a report published in the journal PeerJ, the authors named one of the two new species Humbertium covidum “as homage to the countless victims worldwide of the COVID-19 epidemic.” It’s a unique member of the hammerhead flatworm family, as it’s completely metallic black. The species, which was spotted crawling its way through gardens in France and Italy, is potentially invasive, as it is thought to have originated in Asia.
Next up is Diversibipalium mayottensis, a slender hammerhead flatworm measuring only 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) in length. It makes up for its lack of size with elegance, clad in an iridescent green-blue scattered over brown. So far, it’s only been discovered on a French island in the Indian Ocean’s Mozambique Channel, where it may have traveled from Madagascar. This worm belongs to the same family as hammerhead flatworms, the Bipaliinae subfamily, making it a Pokémon bright find for flatworm evolution.
You might think that two damp shoelaces found in a few gardens is a big deal, but land flatworms (some of which are enormous) have a major impact on the ecosystems they enter. Slugs, snails, and earthworms are among their favorite food sources. “Good riddance!” you exclaim. “They’re too hot for my dahlias!” However, eliminating these garden mainstays has a disastrous effect on soil ecology, which we need to be in top shape in order to grow anything.
The species’ identification is due in part to lockdown, as Jean-Lou Justine and colleagues were unable to access the field and had to rely on their records to identify several hammerhead flatworms on a species-name level. “Most of us remained home during the lockdowns due to the pandemic, with our laboratory closed,” Justine said in a statement. “There were no field expeditions possible.” I persuaded my colleagues to compile all of the data we had on these flatworms, run the computer studies, and then produce this massive report.” You did nothing but bake banana bread.