A menacing 2-inch-long carnivorous flatworm with a more voracious appetite for snails than the French is invading Europe, and scientists fear it could force escargot to go the way of the dodo, reports Phys.org.
"This species is extraordinarily invasive," said Jean-Lou Justine of the National Museum of Natural History. "I really hope it can be stopped at the earliest stages. All snails in Europe could be wiped out. It may seem ironic, but it's worth pointing out the effect that this will have on French cooking."
The invasive species, Platydemus manokwari, is a large New Guinean flatworm measuring about 2 inches long and 5 millimeters wide. It has a backside colored like black olives, a pale belly and two beady dark eyes upon its elongated head. It is capable of rapidly climbing trees in pursuit of snails, its favorite prey. When snails are scarce, it also hunts earthworms, which could also spell trouble for agriculture in Europe.
It was first spotted in Europe after workers at a botanical gardens in Caen, Normandy, spotted an unusual flat-as-a-pancake worm lurking in their greenhouse. After scientists identified it as P. manokwari, scientists immediately raised alarm.
"Platydemus manokwari represents a new and significant threat to biodiversity in France and Europe, which hosts hundreds of species of snails, some of which are endangered and protected," said PeerJ, a publisher of peer-reviewed studies. "It is therefore important to consider the implementation of eradication and control of this flatworm."
The worm's native habitat is high in the mountains of New Guinea, where the 10,000-foot altitudes keep temperatures moderate. Tests have confirmed the worm can survive temperatures down to as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it ought to be able to survive just fine in snail-friendly European climates. It has already invaded more than 15 countries and territories in the Pacific, gobbling up snails at an alarming rate. Even before being found in Europe, the worm was considered one of the 100 most dangerous invasive species in the world.
Officials are scrambling to organize new monitoring measures to prevent the worm from being imported through plants and agricultural products. They are cautiously optimistic that the invasion can be contained before the worms can become established on the continent. If the worms do manage to gain a foothold, however, they could radically transform ecosystems and menus in Europe forever.
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