The New Guinea Flatworm just squirmed onto American soil for the first time by hitching a ride in some plants or dirt, and could inflict havoc on the local ecosystem. But it turns out the gnarly invertebrate picked the best possible state to invade: Florida.
A report on PeerJ says the flatworm has hit the U.S. mainland after previously infesting 22 different countries around the world, mostly thriving in island territories. If it’s not contained, the invasion could threatens the country and perhaps the continent. The flatworms are generally considered to be one of the worst invasive species in the world, and whenever they show up in a locale without any local predators, they become a rampant menace.
But fear not, Florida is no stranger to invasive species: crocodiles, pythons, iguanas, anacondas, geckos, monkeys, bats, bass — the state knows the ropes on how to monitor and contain non-native species.
Which brings us back to the New Guinea Flatworm. The two-inch-long “sneeze with eyes,” in the memorable phrasing of the Washington Post, aren’t dangerous to humans, and generally pose the biggest threat to local snails. If they gobble up said snails, larger predators may starve. Similarly, the flatworms also go after earthworms that play a key role in sustaining soil for agriculture.
The biggest worry with most invasive species is that we don’t really know how quickly they could spread; the Post reports that for now the flatworms are confined to a single greenhouse. If any do escape into the Sunshine State’s scrubby wilds, there’s no telling what damage they’ll do. But knowing Florida, a veritable melting pot of invasive animals, it will not be an easy life for the flatworm. Behold what happens to pythons in the Everglades: