Attack of the Hammerhead Worm

Could your garden be doomed by a predator smaller than a drinking straw? If you’re unknowingly hosting the invasive hammerhead worm, the outlook could be grim, indeed.

You’ve likely heard of hammerheads, but you probably never expected to find one hanging out in your own backyard. Hammerhead worms feed just as aggressively as hammerhead sharks, though on a much smaller scale. But don’t let their size and innocent appearance fool you. Depending upon where you live, hammerhead worms may have already invaded your garden and begun wreaking havoc on your backyard ecosystem. And their favorite snack, unfortunately, is the common earthworm. Here’s why you don’t want to find the carnivorous hammerhead worm tunneling among the roots of your freshly planted garden.

So, Who Cares About Earthworms Anyway?

Earthworms are like tiny tillers, aerating the soil and leaving castings (worm poop) behind that is highly beneficial to plant life. Thanks to the common earthworm, tough, impenetrable soil becomes loose and well fertilized. This allows crops such as corn, wheat, and soy to flourish. It may also be why you have the prettiest roses on the block.

If the earthworm population were suddenly to vanish, life for humans could change pretty drastically. There would be less food produced, more pollution in our soils, and heavier flooding. Since the ancient days of Egypt, when earthworms churned and fertilized the soil in the damp river valleys along the Nile, earthworms have long been touted as one of the more influential species on earth.

And now they have a serious predator that’s completely capable of decimating the entire population. And it could be happening right beneath your feet. Enter the hammerhead worm.

Where Did the Hammerhead Worm Come From?

Hammerhead worms are native to Southeast Asia, but they’ve infiltrated other countries through the import of nursery plants. To date, hammerheads have been found in the United States in various southern states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. They’re carnivores whose preferred buffet is a nice, juicy earthworm. Just like the hammerhead shark, they’re especially aggressive hunters. Scientists think they’re capable of tracking earthworms beneath the ground. When they find one, they emit a deadly neurotoxin that causes paralysis.

What to Do If You See a Hammerhead Worm

Essentially, a hammerhead worm looks like a normal worm with the exception of its unusual, hammer-shaped head. Don’t handle it without gloves. Don’t feed it to pets or livestock, and don’t cut it into pieces. Like many worms, the hammerhead can reproduce asexually. So, if you cut it into three pieces, you’ll eventually be left with two additional hammerheads.

The Texas Invasive Species Institute recommends dowsing hammerheads in salt, vinegar, or citrus oil to kill them. Use gloved hands to place the worm in a plastic baggie and then add your killing solutions. Wash your hands well afterward.

Hammerhead worms may be the worst predators visiting your garden this year, so glove-up when you’re digging in the soil, and be on the lookout for the predatory hammerhead worm.