Meet the Latest Invasive Species Terrorizing Miami, the New Guinea Flatworm

Last month, scientists released rare good news in Florida's seemingly endless fight against invasive species: After collecting more than 150,000 giant African land snails, they'd nearly eradicated the pest from the Sunshine State. 

That's great, because they've got a new disgusting import to attend to. A peer-reviewed study published this week reveals that the New Guinea flatworm has been discovered for the first time in the United States — and all four confirmed sightings have been right here in Miami.

It's not clear how the worm came to Florida, but in the two years since it was first found, it has already spread widely on its own, scientists say.

"The accidental introduction of [the flatworm] through human agency to Florida is probably recent, with our first specimens found in August 2012," the authors write in the paper published on PeerJ. "The species is apparently now well established, with several different locations found in 2014 in Miami-Dade County."

The study confirmed sightings of the worm at four locations, including Coral Gables' Montgomery Botanical Center on Old Cutler Road.

Aside from a rather gross-looking flatworm slithering wild through Miami's gardens, why should anyone worry about the newest invader from abroad?

Well, the flatworm has no known natural predators in the States and feasts on native snails and mollusks — many of which are key pieces in the local food chain. It's such a hardy import, in fact, that one research group included the creature on the list "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species."

"The newly reported presence of the species in mainland U.S. in Florida should be considered a potential major threat to the whole U.S. and even the Americas," the authors write.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink