If you’ve ever walked out to your garden or compost pile late at night, you might have caught a quick, furtive glance of these slimy, slithering, creatures in the undergrowth.
Over a foot long, with a shovel-shaped head and powerful secreted toxin, hammerhead worms are invasive, persistent, and virtually indestructible predators that can wipe out beneficial organisms in and around your garden and the ecosystem at large.
But, all creatures great and small have their part to play in nature, even the scary predators. So, should you kill a hammerhead worm?
Yes, definitely kill them. Hammerhead worms are a highly destructive, and should always be taken care of ASAP (and, in some jurisdictions, reported to the proper authorities).
It turns out that hammerhead worms really don’t have a place in your garden or anywhere else in the United States for that matter.
These things are virtually aliens right here on earth, being very difficult to kill and eating voraciously for their entire lives, sometimes depleting entire ecosystems of important organisms.
If you see one, you’ll need to kill it, but that isn’t as easy as you might be thinking despite their small size. Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about these surprisingly horrifying worms.
What is a Hammerhead Worm Exactly?
Hammerhead worms are not like common earthworms that we find in our lawns, or the red wrigglers that take up residence in our compost piles.
Instead, these creatures belong to a group of animals called land planarians, flatworms.
There are many, many species found all over the globe, but in the U.S. the most common species belong to the genus Bipalium.
It turns out that hammerhead worms have been slowly migrating from other regions of the world, likely as hitchhikers in soil or as stowaways on shipments.
Scientific primer aside, I tell you truly that these worms are the stuff of nightmares.
Growing over to a foot in length and digesting prey alive with toxic saliva, there is no doubt that these critters are predators.
The worms get their name from the distinctive arrow or shovel shaped head at the end of their slender bodies.
Colors vary greatly, with some being purple or yellow, sometimes with bold patterns, and others coming in typical muted earth tones.
Their size is often impressive, even a little intimidating, and they can be mistaken for small snakes, so it pays to keep an eye out when working in the garden.
Once you see one, you won’t forget it!
Why Should I Kill a Hammerhead Worm?
So, why the urgency to kill these critters, especially if we tolerate slugs, snails and other worms?
Simple! These slimy monsters are ceaseless killers of important indigenous creatures, including beneficial earthworms, snails, slugs and even small amphibians.
Left to their own devices, hammerhead worms can completely eliminate impacted wildlife from a local area, and spread out further after doing so.
Hammerhead Worms are a Destructive Invasive Species!
While their presence may seem like a blessing to gardeners who want their slug problem taken care of, the wholesale elimination of these important organisms also disrupts entire ecosystems overtime and can have far-reaching consequences for the environment.
It’s essential to understand that these creatures are not just annoying pests; they’re a serious threat to nature in the United States as they have precisely zero natural predators!
Combine the lack of predators with immense appetite, extreme reproductive rate and their overall resiliency and you can start to see these critters for what they are: a scourge.
It is your duty to help purge them!
Killing Them Is Easier Said than Done, However
Now we get to the truly freakish part: hammerhead worms, basically, cannot be killed by normal means! I am not kidding.
Let’s say that upon seeing it you cleave a hammerhead worm in two with your shovel or trowel. Done deal, right? Nope!
Hammerhead worms not only regenerate damage quickly, but severed pieces will regrow into entirely separate and healthy worms!
Ghastly, I know, like something from a horror movie. You can’t even cut off their heads to do the job, as the body will grow a new head and the head, likely, a new body.
“That’s fine,” I hear you say, “I will just use poison on them!” Not so fast, my friends!
Hammerhead worms have proven alarmingly resilient to most common chemical controls used for the purpose, and what toxins do work effectively usually have other significant environmental repercussions.
Now consider that they have no predators of their own (in the U.S.) and they also breed quickly.
Botching the job of killing these worms could lead to an exponential population explosion and subsequent major disruption of the local environment. What a nightmare! But what can we do?
Have no fear. There is a solution, though it is fairly involved. But first, you need to know that these worms can possibly hurt you, too…
Be Careful: Hammerhead Worms are Poisonous
And to crown it all off, hammerhead worms are also dangerously poisonous.
As you might expect, these toxics serve to protect the worm against any and all predators, and they do a good job of it: the poison, tetrodotoxin, is the same awful stuff produced by the notorious fugu pufferfish.
Seriously, this stuff is bad news, and can easily cause skin irritation or more serious wounds, and can potentially cause paralysis or anaphylactic shock, a potentially deadly reaction in some people.
Luckily, the concentrations of the toxin in these worms are small, but repeated handling with bare hands is a recipe for disaster, and you must never, ever touch your mouth or face when dealing with them.
Use caution when catching and disposing of these awful worms. Gloves and long sleeves are recommended.
It might also be wise to consider wearing closed shoes or boots, for added protection from injuries as well as potential contact with their poisonous secretions.
It should go without saying that these worms are a serious threat to inquisitive children or pets that might try to eat them.
How to Totally and Safely Eliminate Hammerhead Worms
So we have a seemingly un-killable zombie worm that secretes toxin and has no natural predators. What on earth do we do about it?
There is but one choice: total obliteration. That is not hyperbole and I am not joking.
The only way to reliably kill these worms without them splitting and multiplying is by dissolving them in acid. Talk about visiting evil on evil, eh?
The best procedure involves catching the worm and dropping it in a sealed container holding a solution of very soapy salt water, vinegar and boric acid with a little citrus oil.
Over time, this will completely dissolve the worm, and prevent replication.
Once you catch the worm, simply drop it in the container, make sure it is sealed up tight, and then place the container in a chilly spot (at least out of direct sunlight) to help slow down the worm’s metabolism and give the brew time to kill it.
I warn you, the process is ugly. The worms will thrash like mad when you dunk them, and merely splashing the solution on them is not enough.
It is a bad way to go, but no worse than what they do to countless other poor critters, paralyzed and eaten alive.
Report Hammerhead Worm Sightings
In many jurisdictions local universities, agricultural agencies or Fish and Wildlife Service offices may want any and all sightings reported so that they may investigate the scope of the issue.
Hammerhead worms are becoming a really serious problem in some areas and it is important to keep track of them so that countermeasures can be employed.
With a little bit of knowledge and caution you can help in this fight against these hideously destructive worms.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.