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Slimy, non-native and harmful hammerhead worms found around East Tennessee in recent months

Hammerhead flatworms are named for the distinctive shape of their heads and can be extremely harmful to the East Tennessee environment.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A worm that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie was documented in the Knoxville area, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

It's called the hammerhead flatworm and is known for the distinctive shape of its head, the slimy secretions it is covered in and for harming the environment around them. They are not native to the area and are believed to have arrived from Southeast Asia in the soil of nursery plants early in the 20th century.

The TVA said they have been spotted in Norris, Tennessee over the last few months. They can be seen during wet summer weather since they go out in search of hot and humid environments.

Hammerhead flatworms can grow up to 15 inches long but are usually between 8 inches and 12 inches long. They're also carnivorous and eat other earthworms, as well as other invertebrates that lived in the soil. These creatures are usually beneficial to the health of East Tennessee's soil.

So, by eating earthworms, hammerhead flatworms can reduce the quality of East Tennessee's soil. Experts said that without earthworms plants, crops and trees may not be able to get the nutrients they need to grow healthily.

Hammerhead flatworms' slimy secretions are also toxic, meant to ward off predators. It can irritate people's skin, and the worms are also known to carry parasites.

Experts said people shouldn't touch them with their bare hands. They also said the best way to kill a hammerhead flatworm is to either cover it with salt or rubbing alcohol. People can also use glaves to put it in a bag or freeze it.

Cutting hammerhead worms will not work, since they can regenerate any parts of their bodies that they lose.

Hammerheads can usually be found in landscaping soil or near nursery plants. So, gardeners may want to keep a close eye out for these strange-looking worms.

"People are concerned about them. They're unusual and they aren't used to seeing them," said Karen Vail, a professor and UT Extension urban entomologist. "You shouldn't chop them up with a hoe because each body part left behind, they will regenerate another hammerhead worm."

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