Strange critter

first_imgBy Mike IsbellUniversity of GeorgiaIt was one of the strangest animals I’d ever seen. And I didn’tknow what to call it except a worm. But it was unlike any wormI’d seen before.That was many, many years ago. I haven’t seen one since. I hadn’teven thought of it again — until today.Today, a caller from Hogansville said, “Mike, I was out in myyard and I found some kind of earthworm with a head!””Earthworms don’t have heads,” I said. “Are you sure it’s anearthworm?””Well, no, I’m not sure it’s an earthworm,” she answered. “Myneighbor said it was some kind of a snake. But it doesn’t looklike a snake to me. It looks like an earthworm with a head.”Oh, yeah, the ‘worm’Suddenly, I recalled the “worm” I’d found under a large, flatrock near Hillabahatchee Creek many years ago. “Does it have twodark streaks running down its back? And is it covered in slime?”I asked.”Yes, it has two streaks and it’s very slimy.””And does it have a flat head, kind of like a shovel, that itwaves back and forth?””Yes, it does!” she answered.”Then I know what it is,” I said. “It’s a type of flatworm.”Land planariansThese free-living flatworms are known as land planarians(Bipalium kewense Moseley). They’re of no economicimportance, which basically means they’re just out there. Theydon’t hurt anybody.They feed on earthworms and other small animals, alive or dead,including other land planarians. And they avoid light. They’reattracted to moist areas like under rocks and debris.It’s a strange little creature, according to University ofFlorida scientist Paul Choate in a university publication and Website. The planarian’s mouth has to double as its anus, since itdoesn’t have an anus. You think I’m kidding, right? But it’strue. I imagine that might make it a bit ill-tempered.It reproduces mainly by pinching off the tip of its tail, whichforms a new head in a week or so. But it lays eggs, too. I’m notmaking this stuff up.Own worst enemyIts slimy secretions apparently don’t taste good. Hardly anyother animals eat them. In fact, about the only thing that willeat it is another planarian. So it really is its own worst enemy.The waving head, which makes it look like a tiny cobra in frontof a snake charmer — well, that’s the way the planarian teststhe environment. It has chemical sensors under its head.What’s it testing for?Darned if I know.(Mike Isbell is the Heard County Extension Coordinator withthe University of Georgia College of Agricultural andEnvironmental Sciences.)last_img

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