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Hammerhead Worms

Posted on Friday, August 18, 2023 at 9:11 am

By John Teague UT/TSU Extension  FARMERS MARKET
The last week’s markets have been the best the best I ever saw! We’ve had thirteen to eighteen vendors, a broad selection of products, and the quality was excellent! And the crowds have been some of the largest ever.
The market is on Thursday afternoons at the pavilion next to the big blue water tower at the Celebration Grounds. Pay no attention to the parking fee signs, that is for the horse show. Our parking is free. The market starts at 2:30 pm.
There has been some news about an interesting worm that is a bit different. It is a hammerhead worm, officially called a land planarian. The name comes from the fact that its head and body would resemble a hammer, as shown in the photo. I’ve added comments from Dr. Karen Vail, a top entomologist with UT Extension.
The hammerhead shape of the flatworm’s head combined with its long body (up to 1 foot) may cause fear in humans. Some species produce tetrodotoxin (pufferfish toxin) to overcome prey or protect their eggs and themselves from predators. It’s unclear how dangerous this toxin is to people, so avoid handling these flatworms with bare hands.
Hammerhead worms move and feed at night. Mucous or slime covers the body, gives it a shiny appearance, helps the animal move, and protects it from desiccating. Land planarians feed on earthworms, slugs, snails, insect larvae, and other terrestrial invertebrates, including other land planarians!
These worms were found in middle Tennessee in the 70’s, but they seem to have widened their territory. Management of land planarians may not be needed because of the limited size of the hammerhead worm populations encountered in Tennessee. These flatworms should be considered interesting wildlife to observe unless you raise earthworms. Although hammerhead worms eat slugs they do feed on earthworms, so from that fact they could be considered environmentally unfriendly.
One option is to kill each hammerhead worm as encountered, one flatworm at a time. Using gloved hands or forceps, place the flatworm into a plastic bag of salt, alcohol, vinegar or similar substance to kill the worm. Don’t apply salt or these other substances directly to the planarian in the landscape because these substances can injure or kill plants. A pest management professional should not use this salt, alcohol or vinegar approach because they would be applying unregistered pesticides while charging a fee for services.
Flatworms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have male and female reproductive organs used for sexual reproduction. However, they more commonly reproduce asexually when a portion of their body pinches off and regrows another entire flatworm. So, don’t chop them with a hoe because each resulting piece could regenerate a new worm. This asexual reproduction may account for the numerous flatworms found in an area.
The university folks are keeping and eye on these critters, so if you see any, please dispose of them as described above, and please send me a picture in an email with your name, contact information if we need it, and your physical address location so we can monitor where it is.
Now this is not a new monster, so there is no need for fear and panic. They don’t eat children and small pets! However, we do want to monitor these things for now.
Patriotism is dear to me. I wore a military uniform and was proud to do it. I still shake with emotion when I hear the national anthem and see the flag and flyovers at different events.
Here are some great quotes I found in the Cornerstone section of Progressive Farmer. Ronald Reagan said “We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something, for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these things are worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.”
Thomas Campbell said “The patriot’s blood is the seed of freedom’s tree.” Elmer Davis said “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” George Washington said “Guard against the impostures of pretended freedom.” William Faulkner said “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
Two of my favorites came from a leader in the Democratic Party who ran for president but lost, and the other came from a Republican who served us as president. Patriotism comes from both sides of the aisle. I wish we had more of it. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, whose running mate was Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, said “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” And President Abraham Lincoln said “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”