'Killer' flatworm-spread prompts scientists' appeal

New Zealand flatworm Image copyright University of Nottingham
Image caption The flatworms were accidentally introduced in the 1960s and have been moving south in the UK

An invasive species that could put UK gardens under threat has prompted an appeal by scientists.

The New Zealand Flatworm eats native earthworms - which are a vital part of healthy soil - but also has a slime that can cause skin rashes.

Accidentally introduced in the 1960s, it was first spotted in Scotland but has been moving south.

Now a University of Nottingham team has asked gardeners in the Midlands to report sightings.

Image copyright University of Nottingham
Image caption Flatworms can be found in shady places in gardens but also in the countryside

The flatworms attack by wrapping themselves around the earthworm and secreting digestive mucus to dissolve them.

Dr Sarah Pierce, from the University's School of Life Sciences, said: "The flatworms are a problem but we don't know how big a problem as we don't know how far they have spread.

"It is very important that we build up as accurate a picture as possible in the Midlands region as our earthworms may be under attack.

"Every record we receive will help us to understand the distribution and impact of these flatworms, so we can develop the best response."

While a two year survey began in 2015, experts said they now needed more information to gauge the level of threat.

Walkers and gardeners are encouraged to look in sheltered spots and report all sightings to them.

The flatworm is ribbon-flat, slimy, and pointed at both ends, growing up to 15cm long and 1cm wide, with purplish-brown on top with buff-coloured edge and a pale buff underside.

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