'First' 50-eyed flatworm discovered in Cambridgeshire

Flatworm discovered in Cambridgeshire
Image caption The flatworm could be a new species, experts believe

A tiny flatworm with between 50 and 60 eyes, discovered on a Cambridgeshire nature reserve, is believed to be a new species.

The 12mm (0.5in) creature was found by Brian Eversham, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

Biologist Dr Hugh Jones, an expert in the field, believed it was a "completely new, undescribed species".

He is currently studying the worm to determine its origins.

It was found at Shepreth L-Moor, an area of ancient grass and chalkland near Cambridge.

Copulatory apparatus

The flatworm is thought to be of antipodean descent, but also a close relative of a species found in Northern Ireland called Kontikia andersoni.

"New Zealand seems to be the centre of diversity for land flatworms worldwide, and its climate is very similar to Britain," Mr Eversham said.

He said it was not uncommon for worms to be accidentally transported to the UK in horticultural freight.

"Whereas there are millions of undescribed species in the tropics and other poorly-known parts of the world, Britain is the best-documented place on the planet, and it's quite unusual to find a species here which has not been seen before."

Dr Jones, a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum, said he had only seen one other example of a similar worm, a single specimen discovered in the Netherlands in April.

He hopes to be able to identify the species by studying its copulatory apparatus.

"That's the best diagnostic tool when identifying flatworms," he said.

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