New Guinea Flatworm Makes An Appearance In France, Threatening Snail Population

By Shweta Iyer on March 4, 2014 5:28 PM EST

flatworm
Platydemus manokwari, also called New Guinea flatworm, has the distinction of being in the list of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world. (Photo: Pierre Gros)

Invasive alien species - plants, animals, or organisms whose introduction and spread in an ecosystem causes devastation  -  are probably the worst thing that could happen to any given ecosystem. Platydemus manokwari, also called New Guinea flatworm, has the distinction of being in the list of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world, the only terrestrial flatworm on the list. This species was found in France for the first time ever, according to a press release Tuesday.

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Another flatworm called the New Zealand flatworm or Arthurdendyus triangulates, an invasive species in Europe, has already caused havoc by invading huge areas in the north of the British Isles including Scotland and Northern Ireland. This flatworm feeds exclusively on earthworms, which in turn has significantly degraded soil quality. Special measures have been taken by some European countries to control the spread of this flatworm. It has so far never been found in France.

But the equally damaging invasive species Platydemus manokwari, was found in a greenhouse of the Jardin des Plantes de Caen (Normandy). It was identified by its typical physiognomy and molecular analysis of gene Cytochrome Oxidase Type I, often used to characterize animals. The flatworm is very flat and large, measuring about 50 mm long and 5 mm wide. The back is a black olive color with a clear central stripe, and with a pale white belly. The head is pointed and has two prominent black eyes. The mouth is in the middle of the belly.

Platydemus manokwari has become invasive in over 15 territories in the Pacific, devouring land snails and endangering endemic species. In some cases it was introduced accidentally such as through potted plants while in some cases it was introduced intentionally as an agent to control the population of giant snails. Even though it lives on the ground, it is able to climb on trees to follow the snails.

Though the flatworm is native to New Guinea, a tropical country, it inhabits the mountainous regions at an altitude of 3000 meters and can survive relatively cool temperatures of even 10 ° C. So, it's not surprising that it may survive the mild weather of France and other European countries. And the flatworm is capable of consuming European snails as was observed in the laboratory. In the absence of snails, earthworms, and other soil-dwelling species can also be a part of Platydemus manokwari very diverse diet.

Platydemus manokwari may have a devastating effect on the ecology and biodiversity of France and other European nations, which are home to many endangered species of snails. Hence steps must be taken to ensure their eradication and stop further damage to the native ecosystem.

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