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Hammerhead Worm in Texas

a hammerhead worm on a driveway
You’re digging in your garden or spending time on the patio, and you spot what looks like a long, weird earthworm. Its head is reminiscent of a hammerhead shark, which is where it got its name. What you have spotted is actually a hammerhead worm. Finding a hammerhead worm in Texas is unfortunate because these pests prey on beneficial earthworms. They can also be tough to eliminate. So what should you do if you find one?
The first thing to know is that you should not try to kill it by chopping it in half with a shovel. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s real: When the body of a hammerhead worm is divided, it will regenerate into separate living worms. This is called fragmentation, and it is actually how this species reproduces. Its numbers multiply when it is cut into pieces.
Another important thing to know is that you should not touch or handle these worms with your bare hands. Hammerhead worms secrete certain toxic chemicals that can irritate people’s skin. If a dog or a cat happens to eat one of these worms, the toxins in the worm’s body can also harm the pet. Furthermore, these worms can be carriers of parasitic nematodes. For all of these reasons, they should not be touched or handled without gloves. If you don’t want to deal with these pests on your own, contact a professional to help with pest control.
hammerhead worm on leaves

Where Do Hammerhead Worms Come From?

So where did this strange species of worm come from? Hammerhead worms are not native to the United States. They have been in this country for quite a while, though—well over a century. They were first accidentally imported to the U.S. from Southeast Asia in the early 1900s.
These worms’ narrow bodies can grow over a foot long. They look similar to earthworms except their bodies have one or more dark stripes running down their length. This can make them look somewhat like thin, slimy garden snakes. They move less like a snake and more like a slug, by sliding along in their own gooey secretions.
One of the biggest reasons that hammerhead worms cause problems is that they are carnivorous. This means they feed on other creatures, like insect larvae, snails and slugs. They can even consume other hammerhead worms. But they also eat earthworms.
This is a true threat since earthworms are highly beneficial to our soil. They are crucial to the healthy growth of our plants and trees. This is why it’s so important not to accidentally create more hammerhead worms by trying to kill them in a way that divides their bodies. The more hammerhead worms there are, the more earthworms they will eat. This in turn is a threat to the continued health of the soil.
Experts think that hammerhead worms made their way to the U.S. in the soil of plants brought over from Asia. It is certainly true that these worms thrive in hot, humid conditions. They are commonly found in greenhouses. When you buy a new plant from your local garden center, it’s a good idea to inspect its soil carefully before bringing it home. If you see a hammerhead worm, you may want to choose a different plant so you don’t introduce this pest to your garden.
When people spot these worms outdoors, they typically see them in spring and summer. They are most often spotted in warmer, more humid areas. Hammerhead worms are also currently spreading to new parts of the country where they had not previously been seen. If you find one in your yard, it’s not a bad idea to call a reputable pest control company who will report it to your local Extension office. This will ensure that they are aware of the fact that this invasive species has been found in the area.
hammerhead worm on a green leaf

Do Hammerhead Worms Bite?

Many people wonder, do hammerhead worms bite? These worms do not bite, but they can still harm people and animals in a couple of different ways. The first way is that they secrete poisonous chemicals through their skin that can cause irritation in humans.

For hammerhead worms, the purpose of these secretions is to protect themselves from predators. But when people touch or handle the worm with their bare hands, the toxins on the worm’s body are likely to cause irritation. Touching one of these things can even cause a mild rash on your skin. If you handle a hammerhead worm with your bare hands, be sure to wash your skin thoroughly with soap as soon as possible. This will help to reduce any potential irritation.

These same poisonous secretions can also make animals sick if they consume a hammerhead worm. Dogs and cats that eat one of these worms may feel bad for a few days afterward. If you see your pet playing predator with a strange-looking worm, get your pet to safety as quickly as possible.

The other way that hammerhead worms can directly cause harm is through the parasitic nematodes they carry. Nematodes are tiny, non-segmented worms. Some types of nematodes can be good, since they feed on bacteria and fungi. Parasitic nematodes, however, can make people sick. The larger parasitic ones can even prevent people from receiving needed nutrition from the foods they eat.

The nematodes in hammerhead worms are transmittable to humans through skin-to-skin contact. This is another reason that it’s so important not to pick these worms up without protection. If you find one, use a paper towel to pick it up, or wear garden gloves. Handle it carefully, so you don’t accidentally segment its body. Then drop the worm into a sealable plastic bag so it can’t escape. Once it is safely sealed away, wash your hands with soap and water to remove any trace of toxins that might have touched your skin.

How to Get Rid of Hammerhead Worms

Knowing how to get rid of hammerhead worms depends on knowing what not to do if you find one. The main thing to avoid is doing anything that will segment its body. These worms reproduce by fragmentation. This means that cutting or pinching off any section of a hammerhead worm’s body won’t kill the worm. It will just create a new one.
Pest control professionals do not treat for hammerhead worms. This is because there aren’t any products on the market that are made for broad treatment of landscaping or turf to control this invasive species. This means that getting rid of hammerhead worms is a DIY project.
If you have hammerhead worms in your soil, be very careful when digging them out. You’ll need to wear gloves to protect your skin from their poisonous secretions. As you dig in the soil and move it around to uncover the worm, do your best to get the worm out in one piece. This is to avoid segmenting the worm into multiple new, living worms.
Once you have the worm, you should put it into a sealable plastic baggie or another container that can closed and disposed of. Once the worm is safely inside the container, it’s time to destroy it safely. There are several things that kill hammerhead worms. You can pour some salt, vinegar or both into the baggie to kill the worm. Citrus oil is also effective in killing this invasive species.
After you have successfully killed the worm with salt, vinegar or citrus oil, you can place it in the freezer, still inside the baggie or container. Leave the worm there for a period of time to ensure it has been completely destroyed. After a couple of days, you can throw away the container holding the worm into the trash.
If you have any further questions about how to get rid of hammerhead worms, you can reach out to a licensed pest control professional. A specialist can also help you identify it if you aren’t sure whether you’ve found a hammerhead worm or something else.

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If you need help identifying your pest problem, ABC Home & Commercial Services can help. Additionally, we offer a variety of pest control services, including mosquito control, cockroach control and termite control.

Russell Jenkins

Russell Jenkins is the Chief Communications Officer for ABC Home and Commercial Services in North Texas. Russell has been working as part of the ABC Family since he was 12 years old under the direction of his father, Owner Dennis Jenkins, and has since held several leadership roles at ABC. Russell holds a degree in Agricultural Leadership from Texas A&M University, and is a Food Safety Specialist. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and two children, playing tennis, and gaming.

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