MIAMI, June 23 (UPI) -- The New Guinea flatworm is one of the world's worst invasive species. Now, new research shows the worm has made its way to the United States.
New genetic analysis of local worm specimens proves the flatworm is present in a number gardens in Miami, Florida, as well as in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The same research showed the invasive species has also announced its presence, for the first time, in New Caledonia, Tahiti, Singapore, and elsewhere in the Pacific.
"In the USA, the accidental introduction of P. manokwari through human agency to Florida is probably recent, with our first specimens found in August 2012," researchers wrote in a new study, published in the journal PeerJ. "The species is apparently now well established, with several different locations found in 2014 in Miami Dade County."
Scientists say the exotic flatworm (Platydemus manokwari), which eats land snails, slugs and other invertebrates, is a threat to native species. Though it lives on the ground, it is able to climb trees to hunt and consume its prey.
Until now, the New Guinea flatworm has mostly been limited to islands -- allowing researchers to more easily track and contain its spread. But the new study marks the worm's arrival on the mainland, where scientists warn it could quickly proliferate. The worm is easily spread through plant and soil matter.
On islands, the researchers point out: "The spread of the species through human agency is limited by means of transportation and various business and biosecurity protocols. Florida, will not be subjected to these limitations."