Predatory Flatworm – Bipalium kewense

Not too long ago I joked about being scared by the ‘scorpions’ in my worm bin. Well today I am writing about a creature that would genuinely strike fear into the hearts of any worm farmers that found them in their beds – we are talking of course about the dreaded land planarian (aka ‘flatworm’ or ‘shovel head worm’). Our vermi-friend, Dwayne, shared some of the fantastic images he captured after finding one of these slimy suckers in one of his outdoor worm bins a little while ago.

He emailed a University of Florida entomologist (and flatworm expert), Dr. Paul Choate, to find out what exactly it was. Dr. Choate identified it as Bipalium kewense, a relatively common flatworm species in Northern Florida.

I was actually in contact with Dr. Choate myself last year, requesting permission to use some of his great planarian images. Here is one showing what can happen when you put an earthworm and predatory flatworm together in a petri dish! Pretty scary.

Image courtesy of Dr. Paul Choate, University of Florida

Land planarians can be a serious earthworm predator in certain parts of the world – generally they are more of a threat in warmer regions, but certain species are found in more temperate zones as well. They are particularly dangerous because they can reproduce incredibly quickly, and have been reported to wipe out an entire worm population (in a worm farm) in a matter of days.

Long-time worm farming expert, Larry Martin, shared his experience (in a Casting Call interview – Vol. 2, #4, p.6) with flatworms after moving to Florida, claiming they wiped out 3,000 lbs of worms in less than seven days, before proceeding to feed on eachother!

Unfortunately there isn’t any reliable solution for getting rid of these worms once they become established, since their requirements (moisture, darkness etc) are similar to those of the earthworms themselves. If you start seeing any of them, be sure to remove and kill them right away. It’s probably not a bad idea to move some of your worms to a more secure location (an indoor bin perhaps) so you at least have a partial insurance policy.

Dwayne apparently found his specimen in an above-ground wooden bin, sitting on a concrete pad – so they certainly don’t just find their way into exposed windrows (although, perhaps they would be more of a threat in those sorts of beds).

Thanks again to Dwayne for sharing his images!

[tags]flatworm, planarian, worm bin, worm farm, worm bed, vermicomposting, vermiculture, bipalium kewense, earthworm[/tags]

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    • Tessie
    • December 25, 2012

    My Granddaughter was walking her dog, this Christmas morning, Dec 25th of 2012 and found one crawling across the driveway about 12 miles SE of Salisbury, NC. She put it in a bottle and brought it in so that we could look it up and found this web site. Merry Christmas to all.

    • Rian
    • February 20, 2013

    found one in Brackenfell, CPT, South Africa, 6 inches long, behind damp concrete slab in shaded garden corner. We’ve had some cool days at the end of long dry summer. i’m selling it as mother-in-law deterrent!

    • Jen
    • May 5, 2013

    Just found 2 of them in my garden in Phoenix, AZ! One was about 6″ & the other one is about 2 1/2″. I had never seen one before, so had to come in & investigate. When I found out how nasty they are I went back outside to catch them…found the small one – the large one is still on the loose!

    • Jimmy
    • June 29, 2013

    You can use salt to kill them. Like slugs this sucks the moisture out of them and kills them. Also I have just taken one large metal tin and a plastic container that fits in the tin. Put the worm in the tin then put the plastic container over the worm. Leave in the sun. Baked worm in 1 hour.

    • myra
    • July 22, 2013

    I found one July 21,2013 in Ladson,South Carolina in my backyard on my house. I didn’t know what it was that i pick it up,took a picture and then let it go. Also text my sister the picture and ask her did she know but she text me back saying she doesn’t know what it was.

    • Danny
    • July 25, 2013

    Found two in the past two days here in N.C. I thought they were tapeworms so I killed them. Now that I know whag they are, I will continue to kill all that I find.

    • Nathan
    • August 1, 2013

    So Clayton Kern #35–what were the results of your experiment??

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