what is this dangerous worm from Asia?

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This little earthworm measures only three centimeters long but it could become the terror of our gardens! Of black color, with flat hammer-shaped head, Humbertium covidum is more dangerous that it seems. It is indeed a large predator that feeds on small snails and has a powerful and dangerous neurotoxin for the body.

Questioned by our colleagues from France Interparasitologist and zoologist Jean-Lou Justin confirms: “Bipaliines are capable of producing tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxinso I advise not to touch them if found.”

Tetrodotoxin: what are the dangers?

Tetrodotoxin is “a powerful water-soluble neurotoxin that can affect the central nervous system”, details the Vidal. This toxin is particularly known to be present in marine species, such as the puffer fish. Its ingestion can lead to rapid intoxication (between 20 minutes and three hours), with the first effects numbness of the lips and tongue, a burning sensation, numbness and tingling, itching of the face and extremities which may be accompanied headache, epigastric pain, nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting.

“Secondly, a paralysis, increasing respiratory distress, convulsions, mental disorders, cardiac arrhythmia”, continues the Vidal.

Since we don’t eat earthworms, the risks are low. However, contact with the animal should be avoided, as no antidote exists against this neurotoxin.

An invasive worm dubbed Covid by scientists

Originally from Asia, the animal has already been identified several times in Europeincluding a first time in France, in a garden of Eastern Pyrenees. “We started this work in 2020, when our laboratories were closed due to confinement”, explain scientists Jean-Loup Justine and Leigh Winsor in a study devoted to this new species broadcast on The Conversation. “Then, as the pandemic progressed, we wanted to name the species in honor of all the victims. And finally, it seemed to us that covidum was an appropriate name for an organism capable of invading the world and coming from Asia, like the Covid-19 pandemic itself.”

This earthworm is indeed a invasive animal that should not be in our territory. Its proliferation could harm biodiversity by unbalancing the system established in our gardens.

What to do if we find this flatworm?

If only two municipalities seem concerned by its presence in France, Humbertium covidum may already be there on a larger scale. “It is a relatively discreet species. It is quite possible that there are places in France with hundreds of animals without us knowing it yet.“, explains Professor Jean-Lou Justine to The Dispatch.

Anyone who discovers this species is therefore invited to report it to the National Inventory of Natural Heritage.

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