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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!

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Written by Bentley on July 17th, 2008 with comments disabled.
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#1. July 18th, 2008, at 12:11 AM.

OMG Thank heavens I don’t need to worry about anything like that in my bins! That thing gives me the heebeejeebies.Guess I shouldn’t be stressing about my mites. Sherry

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#2. July 18th, 2008, at 2:57 AM.

You don’t need coffee to wake up when you pull back some bedding and see this first thing in the morning!!


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#3. June 28th, 2009, at 2:11 PM.

I just saw one this morning in the garden, I am in Ulster County New York. Interesting that he was this far north but we do often buy plants from greenhouses so maybe he is a transplant. He will eat well here no doubt!

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#4. July 6th, 2009, at 4:23 AM.

I found a shovel head worm here in Fremont, California. I had never seen one and would like to know more.

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#5. July 6th, 2009, at 4:14 PM.

Found one after a storm on a concrete block here in Nashville, TN. Never saw one before – hope to never again – so I bagged it, looked it up, and ended up here. Creepy.

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#6. July 23rd, 2009, at 5:42 AM.

I also saw one in Fremont CA last week. It was on the sidewalk next to a grassy area. I picked it up and threw it in the street hoping it would get run over.

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#7. August 14th, 2009, at 11:36 AM.

We actually had two at our office, we didn’t know what they were so moved them to a safe place. OOPS!!! We then looked them up and found out we should have OFFED THEM.


Now we know.

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#8. September 14th, 2009, at 11:47 PM.

we just found one in our back yard in Oakland, CA
after reading all these posts, we snipped it in 2 and tossed it in our green bin. hope we never see one again

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#9. October 3rd, 2009, at 8:06 PM.

OUCH-if you snipped it in two and threw it out you just did double damage. You threw two of the nasty devils into your garden. To kill these you have to acutally crush them, or spray them with a solution of water and orange oil. We also flush the devils that get carried in on our dogs coats. Nasty nasty critters.

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#10. October 22nd, 2009, at 6:35 PM.

found in my bedroom on the carpet…more than my hand span ( greater than 6 inches ) pale fleshy color, appeared to be two tubes side by side…seems this is a color line that caused the deception…shovel shaped head..aggressively moving and searching side to side action of head…found in the area between Jacksonville Florida and Saint Augustine Florida in Saint Johns Florida 32259 eastward off the San Jose Blvd., below Mandarin area of Jacksonville, south of Julington Creek…between the Saint Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean…cut the head off, put head and body into a plastic bag, poured a little bleach inside the bag, tied it securely and left it in my garage for three days prior to garage pick up…

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#11. January 20th, 2010, at 8:58 AM.

Found 2 of these the past week. First one on my dog, first thought it was some animal worm. Rushed him to vet, vet said no he’s fine. Then last night I found another on the grass. Almost 6 inches. Killed it and decided to look it up today. They look real nasty.

From Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

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#12. March 19th, 2010, at 12:55 PM.

Ugh. I found two of these on my front porch here in Hawaii. They were both more than a foot long! I didn’t know what they were so I dumped them away from my yard. Now you guys have got me scared You dig into my yard anywhere and you find huge earthworms all over the place. I asked the local museum about them:

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#13. March 22nd, 2010, at 1:06 AM.

Wow – seeing all these comments kinda make me glad I’m located in Canada!

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#14. July 23rd, 2010, at 8:54 AM.

I found 2 of these critters,my 2 year old found the 1st one for me. She bought it to me of course and I freaked!!! Then about an hour later I saw another one hang from the bottom of the blinds on one of my patio doors. I had just gotten my carpets cleaned so the air in my apartment was moist. That coupled with a hot georgia day is why (I believe) that critter found his way to me. I am just glad that it is not a threat to me and my family. Right??????

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#15. August 3rd, 2010, at 6:47 PM.

I saw one of those for the first time on Friday evening round 6 or so… I am from the Caribbean Island of St.Lucia.

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#16. August 20th, 2010, at 12:37 PM.

I saw 2 of these this morning crawlin across a cement stepping stone in my front yard, in Middleburg Florida. i don’t think i ever saw one before. i thought it was some type of tape worm. it is weird, i hope a lizard or bird finds them & eats them up.

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#17. August 30th, 2010, at 8:32 PM.

I found one crawling on the side of my house this morning (near Raleigh NC) and thought it was just a small harmless snake so tossed out of my yard. I love my earthworms and hope they are not being threatened!

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#18. October 25th, 2010, at 10:03 PM.

I too have found these worms on my sidewalk after heavy rains or watering. I only seen one or two in three years then this year we pulled out a large overgrown plant and after the first big rain there were 6/7 of them when we moved them with our shoe they would shrink back and get flat and wide….gross…so I have been trying to learn more about them… I’ve see orange oil mentioned several times … what kind, how much, and can we treat the area or do we have to find the worms themselves? Thanks for any advice any one can offer.

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#19. November 1st, 2010, at 6:54 PM.

I’ve seen a few of these at the chula vista olympic training center in S. calif. I even picked one up and it tried to suck/nibble my tip finger skin. Had no idea what they were at the time, But the five of them I’ve seen were in an area full of earthworms. It’s suprising to find they are predatory, who would have thought? I put two of them in a bottle to study them and the smaller one vanished. Now i know why. Thanks for putting up info on these little beasts.

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#20. December 17th, 2010, at 6:29 PM.

After the evening rain, I saw one on a path in a Redondo Beach park.

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#21. June 10th, 2011, at 3:35 PM.

I just found one in my Atlanta driveway.
Never seen one in 55 years here.
Thanks to the web, I have IDed it and know to get rid of it.

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#22. June 16th, 2011, at 10:19 PM.

I found one this morning in Columbia, SC after torrential downpours last night. I think it may have been nearly a foot long. Ugly fella. I didn’t capture it and after reading about it I’m regretting it. I’ve never seen one before and I hope to never see one again. If I do, it’s a goner!

Thanks for the information!

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#23. June 23rd, 2011, at 3:36 PM.

found one on the apts sidewalk in roseville, ca. thought it was an alien. then found out its a monster!

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#24. June 26th, 2011, at 10:00 PM.

I live in santa rosa, ca about 50 miles north of san francisco. I found one in my yard this morning under a black garbage bag full of yard debris. I took pics of the relatively small flat worm with a spade shaped head and then identified it on this site. Once I found out how harmful it was to earthworms I went back out and captured it in a jar. I suppose I’ll have to kill it but have yet to do so. It was about 3 inches long, fleshy color with a dark stripe down the top center of its body. Looked like some kind of parasitic tapeworm. Yuck!

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#25. July 11th, 2011, at 5:08 PM.

wow glad they are not poisinous i was looking for earth worms and picked up one of these ugly little things, and boy are they beyond slimey!!!!!

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#26. July 11th, 2011, at 5:09 PM.

and im from south carolina by the way so guess they are everywhere

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#27. September 5th, 2011, at 6:40 PM.


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#28. September 7th, 2011, at 12:09 AM.

I think the fish in my 90g would enjoy munching on those things, but I think I’ll pass on having them in my worm bin. They’re all over the Continental US now from what I just read…

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#29. October 12th, 2011, at 7:11 PM.

I am from Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas and I saw one of these creatures for the first time in my life this morning on my back porch step. When I first glimpsed it I thought It was a centipede. But then I saw that it was sort of round with a shovel shaped head, about two inches long. I called my husband to kill it because I didn’t know what it was but he flicked it further into the back yard instead. I really wanted to know what this creature was so I googled shovelhead worm and your site came up. After reading about it my husband said if he had known he would have never let it stay alive. Even though I have never seen a round worm either there may be some in the back yard because it is filled with dirt and soil. I can’t believe that they can grow even longer! Although I hope to never see another one again while I’m alive, if I do see one I will definitely KILL it myself…if I have to.

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#30. October 14th, 2011, at 4:34 PM.

After 30 years of living and gardening in the same place, this year I’ve begun to find both kinds of land planarians in my garden – Bipalium kewense (long, brown with 2 stripes) and Bipalium adventitium (shorter, yellowish, one stripe). They hide under moist planters, pots, bricks. So I began using their hideouts as “traps”, places I check to find them so I can then kill them. To kill them, I drop the planarians into a lidded plastic container (yogurt cup) that has 1/4″ of diatomaceous earth in the bottom. I secure the lid. It works! I go out and hunt them after I irrigate, after rains, and in the morning. I check my “traps” and am regularly finding planarians. Physical / mechanical control is effective. By killing the adults, they cannot reproduce or increase populations. This way I’m protecting my earthworms.

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#31. March 27th, 2012, at 2:16 AM.

Hi we live in Middelburg- Mpumalanga South Africa and I found a Bipalium kewense in the shower, at first i thought it was a very long earthworm then i thought it might be a snake. So i googled drain worms and couldn’t find it. once i googled “long flat headed worm in south africa” i came apon thiis sight. Thanx for the info- now i know i need to keep it far away from my earthworm farm.

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#32. April 2nd, 2012, at 7:58 PM.

To follow up on my comment above #30, I discovered an easy way to find the planarians in my garden. I laid a burlap sack on the soil, wet it well, and left it in place. It’s easy to lift up and check underneath for the planarians Ithat find underneath, sleeping by day. I toss them into my yogurt cup full of dry diatomaceous earth, put on the lid and shake well. The diatomaceous earth coating in the planarian kills it.

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#33. April 7th, 2012, at 3:06 PM.

OMG! I found this creepy thing in my garden in Johannesburg south Africa, but since I’m not one to just kill any creature I don’t like, I left it alone. I asked landscapers and some farmers, they didn’t know what it was, Now to find out they eat earthworms! Thanks for advice to find them. Where do they come from??

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#34. April 8th, 2012, at 11:43 AM.

They also eat slugs which is a plus in my garden, I can only hope slugs are the preferred diet.Found a slimy one in Perkinston MIssissippi 39573

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#35. April 23rd, 2012, at 12:38 PM.

Only one way to find their preference. Put a slug, earthworm and Bipalium kewense together and see who survives the longest!. I have one as a pet, so I will try the experiment soon!

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#36. May 29th, 2012, at 4:14 PM.

After a heavy rain I found one of these crawling around my deck along with the earthworms. I went to look it up and now I can’t find it!

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#37. June 2nd, 2012, at 6:03 PM.

I just found one in Chesapeake, VA. I touched it and it started burning my finger. I thought I was going to die lol ; )

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#38. June 3rd, 2012, at 4:21 PM.

I killed them with household lime or I chopped them up and watched those things die in the sun. I also think they hang around empty beer cans that’s in a bin. Empty beer cans + snails = flatworms. And I also raising worms under old carpet for fishing. I haven’t seen them nearly 5 years now and I live in Jackson, Mississippi.

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#39. June 5th, 2012, at 8:19 PM.

I just found one on the patio. Finally a site with description. I thought it was a tapeworm. Its hard to kill.

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#40. June 21st, 2012, at 2:45 PM.

I had one of these crawling on the floor of my shower last night – probably 8-10 inches in length. I just sprinkled a little salt on it and it shriveled up like a slug would, and then flushed it down the commode. These are really nasty creatures.

Houston, TX

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#41. July 1st, 2012, at 5:28 PM.

My wife found one today under a pot on our back porch at El Campo Texas. It had just rained today, soil was wet and humidity high. I had no idea what it was so before I could ask Google, she turned it loose in a flower bed. After I found out how destructive it was, we tried to find it to make sure it did not live to reproduce. Couldn’t find it but will make sure to kill the next one.

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#42. July 11th, 2012, at 2:49 PM.

yep, they are here in Cleveland, Georgia. ugly pestilence.

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#43. July 19th, 2012, at 1:50 PM.

found one in augusta ga. after a storm i guess the water flushed it out nasty

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#44. August 7th, 2012, at 2:33 PM.

Caught a small one in Mountain View/Palo Alto and
crushed it last night. Sorry to see it. Thanks for all
this info.

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#45. August 11th, 2012, at 8:25 AM.

i found one of these scary fellas in houston tx. on my patio about a foot long

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#46. August 14th, 2012, at 8:53 PM.

My cat found one of these. Brought it into the house. Freaked me out it was so gross. I swept it outside and the cat took off with it. Must have been 14″ long. Should I worry if my cat ate it?

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#47. August 20th, 2012, at 6:53 AM.

I found one in my flower garden im cumming ga. I didnt know wat it was.

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#48. August 23rd, 2012, at 11:23 AM.

I found a Shovelhead on the bottom of a planter this morning in Chapel Hill, NC. This is the first I’ve seen. But there must be more. Any suggestions about where to look for others?

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#49. October 22nd, 2012, at 2:56 PM.

Seen lots of worms in my 53 years but never this flatworm thing. I found 2 under a pile of bricks this morning as well as an 8″ snake. Needless to say they are now all dead! Best place for them. Mckinney,Texas. (North Dallas)

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#50. November 18th, 2012, at 5:34 PM.

something new! “O”boy, always like to work out side theres alot of neat things. But I guess this is not one of them.the little guys in a jar.hope its the last of them…. But you know weres theres one theres more. Sacramento Cal.

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#51. December 25th, 2012, at 12:34 PM.

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.

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#52. February 20th, 2013, at 11:04 AM.

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!

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#53. May 5th, 2013, at 5:02 AM.

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!

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#54. June 29th, 2013, at 9:54 PM.

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.

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#55. July 22nd, 2013, at 1:07 PM.

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.

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#56. July 25th, 2013, at 10:01 AM.

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.

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#57. August 1st, 2013, at 12:37 PM.

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

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