Tag Archives: land planarians

The hammerhead flatworms: once a mess, now even messier

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Few people know that land planarians exist, but when they do, they most likely know the hammerhead flatworms, which comprise the subfamily Bipaliinae.

The hammerhead flatworms, or simply hammerhead worms, have this name because their head has lateral expansions that make them resemble a hammer, a shovel or a pickaxe. Take a look:

Bipalium_vagum

The “wandering hammerhead worm”, Bipalium vagum. Notice the peculiar head. Photo by flickr user budak.*

The Chinese knew the hammerhead worms at least since the 10th century, which is understandable, since they are distributed from Japan to Madagascar, including all southern and southeast Asia, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines and other archipelagos. The western world, however, first heard of them in 1857, when William Stimpson described the first species and put them in a genus called Bipalium, from Latin bi- (two) + pala (shovel), due to the head shape. One of them was the species Bipalium fuscatum, a Japanese species that is currently considered the type species of the genus.

800px-bipalium_fuscatum_by_head

Anterior region of Bipalium fuscatum, the “brownish hammerhead worm”. Photo by Wikimedia user 根川大橋.**

Two years later, in 1859, Ludwig K. Schmarda described one more species, this one from Sri Lanka, and, unaware of Stimpson’s paper, called the species Sphyrocephalus dendrophilus, erecting the new genus for it from Greek sphȳra (hammer) + kephalē (head).

Sphyrocephalus_dendrophilus

Drawings by Schmarda of Sphyrocephalus dendrophilus.

In the next year, 1860, Edward P. Wright did something similar and described some hammerhead worms from India and China, creating a new genus, Dunlopea, for them. The name was a homage to his friend A. Dunlop (whoever he was).

Dunlopea_grayia

Wright’s Drawing of Dunlopea grayia (now Diversibipalium grayi) from China.

Eventually those errors were perceived and all species were put in the genus Bipalium, along with several others described in the following years. All hammerhead worms were part of the genus Bipalium until 1896, when Ludwig von Graff decided to improve the classification and divided them into three genera:

1. Bipalium: With a head having long “ears”, a well developed head.
2. Placocephalus (“plate head”): With a more semicircular head.
3. Perocephalus (“mutilated head”): With a shorter, rudimentary head, almost as if it had been cut off.

Bipaliids

Compare the heads of typical species of Bipalium (left), Placocephalus (center) and Perocephalus (right), according to Graff.

This system, however, was soon abandoned and everything went back to be simply Bipalium and continued that way for almost a century, changing again only in 1998, when Kawakatsu and his friends started to mess with the penises of the hammerhead worms.

First, in 1998, they erected the genus Novibipalium (“new Bipalium“) for species with a reduced or absent penis papilla, and retained in Bipalium those with a “well”-developed penis papilla. It is worth noticing though that this well-developed papilla is not much bigger than a reduced papilla in Novibipalium. In both genera the actual, functional penis is formed by a set of folds in the male atrium and not by the penis papilla itself as in other land planarians that have a penis papilla.

Later, in 2001, Ogren & Sluys separated some more species of Bipalium in a new genus called Humbertium (after Aloïs Humbert, who described most species of this new genus). They were separated from Bipalium because the ovovitelloducts (the ducts that conduct the eggs and vitellocites) enter the female atrium from ahead, and not from behind as in the typical Bipalium. This separation is, in my opinion, more reasonable than the previous one.

Now we had three genera of hammerhead worms based on their internal anatomy, but several species were described without any knowledge of their sexual organs. Thus, in 2002, Kawakatsu and his friends created one more genus, Diversibipalium (the “diverse Bipalium“) to include all species whose anatomy of the sexual organs was unknown. In other words, it is a “wastebasket” genus to place them until they are better studied.

Are these three genera, Bipalium, Novibipalium and Humbertium, as now defined, natural? We still don’t know, but I bet they are not. A good way to check it would be by using molecular phylogeny, but we don’t have people working with these animals in their natural habitats, so we do not have available material for that. Another thing that can give us a hint is to look at their geographical distribution. We can assume that genetically similar species, especially of organisms with such a low dispersal ability as land planarians, all occur in the same geographical region, right? So where do we find species of each genus? Let’s see:

Bipalium: Indonesia, Japan, China, Korea, India.

Novibipalium: Japan.

Humbertium: Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Southern India, Indonesia.

Weird, right? They are completely mixed and covering a huge area of the planet, especially when we consider Humbertium. We can see a tendency, but nothing very clear.

Fortunately, some molecular analyses were published (see Mazza et al. (2016) in the references). One, which included the species Bipalium kewense, B. nobile, B. adventitium, Novibipalium venosum and Diversibipalium multilineatum placed Diversibipalium multilineatum very close to Bipalium nobile, and they are in fact very similar, so I guess that we can transfer it from Diversibipalium to Bipalium, right? Similary, Novibipalium venosum appears mixed with the species of Bipalium. I guess this is kind of messing things up one more time.

681px-bipalia_invasive

Head of some species of Bipalium, including the ones used in the study cited above. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo or drawing of Novibipalium venosum. Image by myself, Piter Kehoma Boll.**

Interestingly, among the analyzed species, the most divergent was Bipalium adventitium, whose head is “blunter” than that of the other ones. Could the head be the answer, afterall? Let’s hope that someone with the necessary resources is willing to solve this mess soon.

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See also:

Once found and then forgotten: the not-so-bright side of taxonomy.

The lack of taxonomists and its consequences on ecology.

They only care if you are cute. How charisma harms biodiversity.

The faboulous taxonomic adventure of the genus Geoplana.

Darwin’s Planaria elegans: hidden, extinct or misidentified?

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References:

Graff, L. v. (1896) Über das System und die geographische Verbreitung der Landplanarien. Verhandlungen der Deutschen Zoologischen Gesellschaft6: 61–75.

Graff, L. v. (1899) Monographie der Turbellarien. II. Tricladida Terricola (Landplanarien). Engelmann, Leipzig.

Kawakatsu, M.; Ogren, R. E.; Froehlich, E. M. (1998) The taxonomic revision of several homonyms in the genus Bipalium, family Bipaliidae (Turbellaria, Seriata, Tricladida, Terricola). The Bulletin of Fuji Women’s College Series 236: 83–93.

Kawakatsu, M.; Ogren, R. E.; Froehlich, E. M., Sasaki, G.-Y. (2002) Additions and corrections of the previous land planarians indices of the world (Turbellaria, Seriata, Tricladida, Terricola). The bulletin of Fuji Women’s University. Ser. II40: 162–177.

Mazza, G.; Menchetti, M.; Sluys, R.; Solà, E.; Riutort, M.; Tricarico, E.; Justine, J.-L.; Cavigioli, L.; Mori, E. (2016) First report of the land planarian Diversibipalium multilineatum (Makino & Shirasawa, 1983) (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Continenticola) in Europe. Zootaxa4067(5): 577–580.

Ogren, R. E.; Sluys, R. (2001) The genus Humbertium gen. nov., a new taxon of the land planarian family Bipaliidae (Tricladida, Terricola). Belgian Journal of Zoology131: 201–204.

Schmarda, L. K. (1859) Neue Wirbellose Thiere beobachtet und gesammelt auf einer Reise um die Erde 1853 bis 1857 1. Turbellarien, Rotatorien und Anneliden. Erste Hälfte. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig.

Stimpson, W. (1857) Prodromus descriptionis animalium evertebratorum quæ in Expeditione ad Oceanum, Pacificum Septentrionalem a Republica Federata missa, Johanne Rodgers Duce, observavit er descripsit. Pars I. Turbellaria Dendrocœla. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia9: 19–31.

Wright, E. P. (1860) Notes on Dunlopea. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3rd ser.6: 54–56.

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Darwin’s Planaria elegans: hidden, extinct or misidentified?

by Piter Kehoma Boll

During his epic voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and collected some amazing land planarians, a group that until then was very little known. One of the species he found was Geoplana vaginuloides, the type-species of the genus Geoplana, at that time named Planaria vaginuloides.

f6387-vaginuloides-pedrabranca40

Geoplana vaginuloides (Darwin, 1844), the first Brazilian land planarian species to be described. Photo by Fernando Carbayo.*

The second species described by Darwin was named Planaria elegans. Darwin’s description is as it follows:

“Position of the orifices as in P. vaginuloides. Anterior part of the body little elongated. Ocelli absent on the anterior extremity, and only a few round the margin of the foot. Colours beautiful; back snow-white, with two approximate lines of reddish brown; near the sides with several very fine parallel lines of the same tint; foot white, exteriorly clouded, together with the margin of the body, with pale blackish purple: body crossed by three colourless rings, in the two posterior of which the orifices are situated. Length 1 inch; breadth more uniform, and greater in proportion to length of the body, than in last species.
Hab. Same as in P. vaginuloides. [Rio de Janeiro]”

And this is all we know about this species. Darwin did not provide any drawing and later researchers did not report this species again, except when mentioning Darwin’s publication. As you can see by the description, it is not very accurate. He does not say what is the breadth of each line or band, neither how many of the “several fine parallel lines of the same tint” there are. Here is a quick drawing I did of how I imagine the creature would be:

image description

My idea of what Darwin’s Planaria elegans may have looked like. Head to the left. Credits to myself, Piter Kehoma Boll.**

In 1938, Albert Riester described a land planarian from Barreira, a district in the city of Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro, naming it Geoplana barreirana. He described it as it follows (translated from the original in German):

“Land planarian found on a leaf after a rain; greatest lenght ca. 20 mm. Middle of the back white with two fine purple-red (atropurpureus light) parallel stripes. Outside of the white also limitted by pale red, then follows (on both sides) a black band and laterally a black-brown marmorate pattern over brown background. The middle stripe ends at the rear [end]. Head spotted, marked with transversal spotted bands (regenerate?). Underside gray, bordered by black-brown. Anterior end is arched backwards.”

Fortunately, Riester provided a drawing, which you can see below:

Barreirana_barreirana_Riester

Geoplana barreirana drawn by Riester (1938).

They look a bit alike, right? Fortunately Geoplana barreirana (currently named Barreirana barreirana) was found by later researchers and we have photographs! See one specimen below:

f6284_barreiranatijuca3

A specimen of Barreirana barreirana found in the Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Fernando Carbayo.*

Riester did not describe any transversal marks on his specimens, but he may have mistaken them for color loss in preserved specimens or something like that. Otherwise the specimen looks very similar to Riester’s drawing, and the internal anatomy, which Riester provided as well, is also compatible.

Now let’s try to fit Darwin’s description of Planaria elegans in this photograph. White background, two reddish brown stripes and several fine parallel stripes of the same tint. He likely described the animals from preserved specimens, even though he have seen them alive and collected them. Perhaps the colors had already faded a little and the black stripes, which internally touch two of the reddish stripes, may have been considered a single purple-red stripe? It is not clear, in his description, whether there is white between the “reddish brown” stripes and the “pale blackish-purple” sides, as I did in my drawing, or not, as in Barreirana barreiranabut certainly the dark gray sides of B. barreirana could be the same as the pale blackish purple sides of Planaria elegans, don’t you think? And B. barreirana HAS three white “rings” crossing the body. You can see the first and the second very clearly on the specimen above. The third one is not very well marked, but you can see a third white mark interrupting the gray sides. And the second and almost third marks seem to be quite where one would expect the two orifices (mouth and gonopore) of the planarian to be!

And what about the ventral side? Darwin described P. elegan‘s as being white with a pale blackish purple border as the sides of the dorsum. Riester described G. barreirana‘s as being gray bordered by black-brown. Here is Barreirana barreirana‘s ventral side:

Barreirana barreirana from below

Ventral side of Barreirana barreirana from the Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Fernando Carbayo.*

It is white, or pale gray perhaps, and the borders are of the same color as the sides of the dorsum!

I think it is very, very likely that Darwin’s Planaria elegans and Riester’s Geoplana barreirana are the same species. The fact that no one but Darwin has ever seen a specimen of Planaria elegans makes it even more likely.

What do you think?

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See also:

How are little flatworms colored? A Geoplana vaginuloides analysis.

The fabulous taxonomic adventure of the genus Geoplana.

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References:

Darwin, C. (1844) Brief Description of several Terrestrial Planariae, and of some remarkable Marine Species, with an Account of their Habits. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 14, 241–251.

Riester, A. (1938) Beiträge zur Geoplaniden-Fauna Brasiliens. Abhandlungen der senkenbergischen naturforschenden Gesellschaft 441, 1–88.

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Land snails on islands: fascinating diversity, worrying vulnerability

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The class Gastropoda, which includes snails and slugs, is only beaten by the insects in number of species worldwide, having currently about 80 thousand described species. Among those, about 24 thousand live on land, where they are a very successful group, especially on oceanic islands.

The Hawaiian Islands alone, for example, have more than 750 snail species and there are more than 100 endemic species in the small island of Rapa in the South Pacific. This diversity is much higher than that in any continental place, but the reason for that is not completely understood.

Mandarina

A land snail of the genus Mandarina, endemic to the Ogasawara Islands, Japan. Photo by flickr user kmkmks (Kumiko).*

One of the most likely explanations for this huge diversity on islands is related to the lack of predators. The most common predators of snails include birds, mammals, snakes, beetles, flatworms and other snails. Most of those are not present in small and isolated islands, which allows an increase in land snail populations in such places. Without too much dangers to worry about, the community of land snails n islands can explore a greater range of niches, eventually leading to speciation.

Unfortunately, as always, the lack of danger leads to recklessness. Without predators to worry about, insular land snails tend to lay fewer eggs than their mainland relatives. If there is no danger of having most of your children eaten, why would you have that many? It is better to lay larger eggs, putting more resources on fewer babies, and so assure that they will be strong enough to fight against other snail species. Afterall, the large number of species in such a small place as an island likely leads to an increased amount of competition between species.

But why is this recklessness? Well, because you never known when a predator will arrive. And they already arrived… due to our fault.

The diversity of insular land nails was certainly affected by habitat loss promoted by humans, but also by predators that we carried with us to the islands, whether intentionally or not. These predators include rats, the predatory snail Euglandina rosea and the land flatworm Platydemus manokwari, the latter being most likely the worst of all.

800px-platydemus_manokwari

The flatworm Platydemus manokwari in the Ogasawara Islands. Photo by Shinji Sugiura.

This flatworm arrived at the Chichijima Island, part of the Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific Ocean, in the early 1990s and in about two decades it led most land snail species on the island to extinction and many more are about to face the same fate on this island and on others. Not being prepared for predators, these poor snails cannot reproduce fast enough to replace all individuals eaten by the flatworm.

We have to act quickly if we want to save those that are still left.

See also: The New Guinea flatworm visits France – a menace.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences and further reading:

Chiba, S., & Cowie, R. (2016). Evolution and Extinction of Land Snails on Oceanic Islands. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 47 (1), 123-141 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054331

Sugiura, S., Okochi, I., & Tamada, H. (2006). High Predation Pressure by an Introduced Flatworm on Land Snails on the Oceanic Ogasawara Islands. Biotropica, 38 (5), 700-703 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2006.00196.x

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New Species: July 11 to July 20

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described from July 11 to July 20. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and Systematic and Applied Microbiology, as well as journals restricted to certain taxa.

Pseudoechthistatus sinicus(top) and P. pufujiae are two of the more than 40 new species of beetles described in the last 10 days.

Pseudoechthistatus sinicus (top) and P. pufujiae (bottom) are two of the 40 new species of beetles described in the last 10 days.

Archaea

Bacteria

SARs

Plants

Excavates

Fungi

Sponges

Flatworms

Annelids

Mollusks

Roundworms

Arachnids

Myriapods

Crustaceans

Hexapods

Cartilaginous fishes

Ray-finned fishes

Reptiles

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Flickr, a paradise of photographs of unknown species

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Currently there are about 1,2 million species described worldwide and hundreds of new species are found and described every month. Some estimations predict that Earth currently contains more than 10 million species, meaning that we still know very little of our diversity. The hundreds of species described monthly may look as a huge progress, but actually we are running in a very slow pace, mainly due to the lack of taxonomists, but also because of the few resources devoted to research in biodiversity.

Most people may think that in the current world, a new species represents some small and mysterious animal found deep inside an unexplored tropical forest. Well, most of them fit in this description, but actually many new species are found living among humans for decades or centuries.

Many of them, while unknown to experts in the group, may be well known by the local people. An example of that is the recently described little black tapir (Tapirus kabomani).

But many species unknown to science are frequently spotted by nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers. Fascinated by the beauty of the creatures they found, they take some pictures of the specimens and post them online. And when some biologist recognizes it as a probably new species, he or she gets excited and interested in helping that species to be known. A place crowded with new species is certainly flickr. Here I’ll show some photographs of land planarians, the group I work with, that I found on the website and that certainly, or most likely, represent new species.

Flatworm

Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Terricola, Atlantic forest, northern littoral of Bahia, Brazil

(Platyhelminthes: Tricladida)

(Platyhelminthes: Tricladida)

Terrestrial flatworm (Geoplana sp)

Nemertean worm

Simona's 'Slug'

Sem título

Land Planarian

Unidentified Planarian: Loreto, Peru

Unidentified Planarian and Scorpion: Loreto, Peru

Large land flatworm

Land planarian Polycladus sp?

Oh, how I envy those people living close to these places! If only there were someone there able to study, described and publish all that diversity.

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Friday Fellow: ‘Orange Jaguar Snail’

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgLast week I introduced a land planarian that feeds on land snails, Obama ladislavii, or, as I called it, the Ladislau’s flatworm. Therefore, today, I thought it would be great to present a similar situation occurring backwards: a land snail that feeds on land planarians.

So let me introduce this little predator, the land snail Rectartemon depressus. Again, it is not a widely known species and thus it has no common names, but why not call it the ‘orange jaguar snail’? Species of the genus Euglandina, which are also predatory snails, are called ‘wolf snails’ by comparing them to a common predator in North America. As Rectartemon species are common in South America, we could perfectly call them ‘jaguar snails’, right?

Rectartemon depressus about to capture a land planarian Obama marmorata. Photo from Lemos et al., 2012

Rectartemon depressus about to capture a land planarian Obama marmorata. Photo extracted from Lemos et al., 2012

Found in areas of Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, the orange jaguar snail has a yellow to orange body and a whitish shell. It is listed a vulnerable species in the Brazilian Red List, but it is not mentioned in the IUCN’s Red List.

Initially known as a predator of other land gastropods, the orange jaguar snail revealed a new item in its diet recently. During attempts to find the food items in the diet of some land planarians from southern Brazil, the orange jaguar snail was offered as a food option, but while the expectations were that the planarian would eat the snail, the opposite happened! After contacting the land planarian, the snail simply grasps it with its radula (the snail’s toothed tongue) and sucks it in very quickly, just as if it were eating a noodle!

The orange jaguar snail eagerly consumes several land planarians, both native and exotic species. It makes it one of the first known predators of land planarians. One of its prey is the Ladislau’s flatworm, so we have a snail that eats a flatworm that eats snails!

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References:

Lemos, V., Canello, R., & Leal-Zanchet, A. 2012. Carnivore mollusks as natural enemies of invasive land flatworms. Annals of Applied Biology, 161 (2), 127-131 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7348.2012.00556.x

Santos, S. B., Miyahira, I. C., Mansur, M. C. D. 2013. Freshwater and terrestrial molluscs in Brasil: current status of knowledge and conservation. Tentacle, 21, 40-42.

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Friday Fellow: ‘Ladislau’s Flatworm’

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Friday fellow is back!

After almost a year, I decided to go on with it. Actually, I interrupted it because of several other activities that were requiring my attention. Now let’s move on!

Today I will present to you another land planarian, and one I particularly like. Its binominal name is Obama ladislavii (formerly Geoplana ladislavii) and, as most land planarians, it does not have a popular name, although I suggest it to be ‘Ladislau’s Obama’ or ‘Ladislau’s Flatworm’. Now who is Ladislau?

Well, let’s first take a look at how this species was first described.

The Ladislau’s Flatworm was described in 1899 by the zoologist Ludwig von Graff in his famous monograph, “Monographie der Turbellarien”. Graff described it based on specimens sent to him from southern Brazil by the zoologist Hermann von Ihering, as well as on other specimens collected by the biologist Fritz Müller.

By the time Ihering and Müller were collecting specimens in Brazil, a botanist named Ladislau de Souza Mello Netto was the director of the Brazilian National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. He actually hired them as traveling naturalists, so we can say that he was the responsible for them being able to collect specimens in Brazil.

As a result, when describing this new planarian species, Graff decided to call it ladislavii in honor of Ladislau Netto. At least I think so! I did not find any reference to that, as Graff did not explain the etymology of the name in the description. However, whom else would ladislavii be referring to?

Now that we explained the name, it is time to talk about the worm itself.

Ladislau’s flatworm is found in southern Brazil’s states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina and is easily recognized by its green color. The larger specimens can measure more than 10 cm in length and more than 1 cm in breadth while creeping, so it is a considerably large planarian for the local standards.

Obama ladislavii in all of its greenness. Photo by Piter K. Boll*

Obama ladislavii in all of its greenness. Photo by Piter K. Boll*

Most land planarians are found either in very well preserved ecosystems, for example, inside undisturbed forests, or in very well disturbed ecosystems, such as gardens and urban parks. Now we can find the Ladislau’s flatworm living very well both in a natural paradise in the middle of a dense forest as well as in that small garden beside a very busy street. How is that possible?

The life history of many land planarian species is completely unknown, so that we do not even know what they eat. They are recognized as important predators of other invertebrates, but that is not enough, as being a predator does not mean that you eat anything that moves, right?

Until recently, we knew very little about the Ladislau’s flatworm, but I started to study it along with other species in the last years and so now we at least have an idea of what it eats, and the answer is: Gastropods, i.e., slugs and snails!

We usually found gastropods in gardens, parks, plantations and everywhere humans plant something, so they are an available meal for the Ladislau’s flatworm. It feeds on many of those annoying little pests you may find in your garden, including the garden snail (Helix aspersa), the Asian trampsnail (Bradybaena similaris), and the marsh slug (Deroceras laeve).

Obama ladislavii and one of its snacks, the snail Bradybaena similaris

Obama ladislavii and one of its snacks, the snail Bradybaena similaris. Photo by Piter K. Boll*

The Ladislau’s flatworm can follow the slime trail left by the gastropod in order to find and capture it. The most efficient way for the planarian to subjugate the prey is by surrounding it with its body and using muscular power, not very different from what a constrictor snake does.

Considering its taste for those pests, the Ladislau’s flatworm seems to be a good item to have in your garden, right? Yes, but only if you live in southern Brazil. Exporting it to other areas can lead to catastrophic results, as the case you can read here.

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References:

Boll, P., & Leal-Zanchet, A. (2014). Predation on invasive land gastropods by a Neotropical land planarian Journal of Natural History, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2014.981312

Graff, L. v. 1899. Monographie der Turbellarien. II. Tricladida Terricola. Engelmann, Leipzig, 574 p.

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