Local officials in Khon Kaen alerted to help get rid of New Guinea flatworms

Local administration and community leaders in Khon Kaen province have been instructed by provincial health officials to inform people in their localities about the presence of New Guinea flatworms in the province and to help get rid of them.

Chaibancha Hongka, a health official in Kranuan district, said that a report and a picture showing what claimed to be New Guinea flatworms was recently posted in the social media and initial examination confirmed that it was.

He added that officials were mobilized to search for the carnivorous invasive worm in order to have them exterminated before it could threaten the environment and kill native species such as earthworms and snails.

Mr Chaibancha said officials had taken pictures of the New Guinea flatworms and had them disseminated to local administration officials and community leaders to warn them of the worms so they could help in getting rid of them.

The spreading of New Guinea flatworm in Thailand was reported by Siamensis, a biodiversity conservation group on Nov 6. The flatworm, which has been listed as the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species by the IUCN, has been found in 20 provinces so far.

About New Guinea flatworm (Source: siamensis.org)

  • Native to New Guinea and Northern Australia. This species grows to about 5-6 centimeters in length.
  • The body is uniformly dark brown with a light brown line running along the middle of the back. The underside is white.
  • The flatworm eat snail as its main food but will also eat slug and earth worm when the supply of snail in the area is exhausted.
  • The New Guinea Flatworm has been reported as invasive alien species in many countries, especially those of Pacific island nations.  Apart from Pacific island nations, the flatworm has been reported in France, Florida and Singapore.
  • The occurrence of this species in Thailand is the first report for mainland Asia.
  • There are no known predator or any condition that will control its population growth, so their limiting factor would be the supply of snail, which they can hunt into extinction.
  • This species is hermaphrodite but require two individuals to sexually reproduce.  They can also grow into separate individual if being cut but this is not their natural way of reproduction.
  • New Guinea Flatworm is not only a threat to local snail fauna of Thailand but also a vector of Angiostrongylus cantonensis (rat lungworm) a parasitic nematode (Round worm) that normally infected rat but use snails and flatworms as its intermediate host.  Human can be infected by this parasite as well by eating uncooked or undercooked snail, eating fresh vegetable where the snail and flatworm might pass by or drinking contaminated water. This is the most common cause of eosinophilic meningitis, a serious condition that can lead to death or permanent brain and nerve damage.
  • To kill the New Guinea flatworm, pour hot water or salt on them. Do not cut them as this will only result in them multiplying even more. To save many species of local snails, this is the action that must be taken seriously.