Dreaded flatworm spreads, but can be killed

Gardeners in the midlands who worry about invasion by the dreaded New Zealand flatworm can relax for now.

Gardeners in the midlands who worry about invasion by the dreaded New Zealand flatworm can relax for now.

Reports that the worm, first imported in the 1950s in nursery stock plants from New Zealand, had made its way to Mullingar were discounted this week. The New Zealand flatworm preys on earthworms by trapping them and covering them in a slime which dissolves the worms so the flatworm can eat them.

The unwelcome visitor has no known enemy in the wild, and the removal of earthworms from pastures and gardens can create difficulties with soil fertility.

A recent report and picture in the Westmeath Topic said a man in the Grange area of Mullingar had found a strange creature under a heap of stones in his garden. The 9["] creature had a snakelike head and looked like a legless lizard or slow-worm.


But this week the Republic's foremost expert on the flatworm, Dick Dunne of Teagasc, the farm advisory and food development organisation, said the creature was unlikely to be a flatworm.

Dick, who has been monitoring the spread of the flatworm from Northern Ireland, said he has had no reports of the flatworm in the midlands.

"From the description in the newspaper report, this is definitely not a flatworm because they do not have a head as such, and their `mouth' is an opening down the bottom of the body," he said.

"A lot of people confuse the flatworm with the horse leech, but I can tell you they are spreading all over the country," he said.

Mr Dunne said there were confirmed sightings of the flatworm in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo, Leitrim, Louth, Meath, Dublin and the National Park in Killarney.

"As far as we can see the flatworm is being spread from some nurseries, and I am delighted to see there are moves to classify them as pests and to have inspections of garden centres to ensure that they are not spread any farther," he said.

He said gardeners could trap the flatworm, which is liver-coloured with a pale speckled underbelly and can extend up to 8["], by placing soil and rocks in a plastic sack in their gardens and routinely exterminating it.

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