What’s Happened/Happening to the Worms?

By Bernie Bell

Have other people noticed that, in places, the earthworms have disappeared, or are disappearing?  They have been/are being taken over by New Zealand Flatworms. In our garden, we rarely find a native earthworm, but lots of NZ Flatworms. Apparently, they eat the earthworms, so, at some point, there will be no more earthworms for them to eat, and, presumably, they will disappear, and, hopefully, be replaced by earthworms again.  I say ‘hopefully’ because  – the earthworms are a vital element in the maintenance of healthy soil, and removing organic debris in a productive way.  An earthworm, comes up, pulls a bit of leaf or whatever down into its burrow to consume, and, in so doing, takes the nutrients into the soil, whilst preventing a build-up of material on the surface,  which can inhibit plant growth.

As far as I can tell, the NZ Flatworms don’t do this, they just eat the earth worms, and that’s that.

New Zealand flatworm

photo: Flickr user Rae’s

They must serve some purpose, as, everything has a place in life, and does…something.  The  ’Consider the Lilies of the field‘ idea is good, for if folk feel that they must serve a purpose – but we all do serve a purpose, by being what we are.  That’s a whole other discussion!  Everything, connects and adds to life, has a place in the whole scheme of things, so the Flatworm, will have its own place.  Maybe in its native NZ , it’s fine, but here?  Farmers probably don’t mind, as, whether using artificial or natural fertilizers, they plough the fertilizer deep into the land, where it can do its job. For a long time, earthworms have done that job, on a smaller scale, and that’s where my concern comes in – in the garden. Add all the gardens together, and that’s a lot of land. Again, as far as I can tell, the NZ Flatworm isn’t everywhere in Britain, but it is in ‘pockets’, and where it is, earthworms – are not.

Website address: OPAL Explore Nature

How much of a worry should this be?  We are concerned about bird numbers and bee numbers declining, and are right to be so, but there doesn’t appear to be so much attention being paid to the native Earthworm being taken over by the NZ Flatworm, and the effect that can have on the soil.

map for New Zealand flatworm

I thought I’d look up some info about them, and there is some, and some of it is helpful, for example these ……



So, there is an awareness of them,  that they are damaging the native Earthworm population, and that they are not as helpful as the native Earthworm, in maintaining the health of the soil.

Admittedly in our garden, the plants still grow well, so, should I be concerned?  It could be, that the full effect hasn’t kicked in yet?  I don’t know !!!  That’s why I’m wondering about it, and wondering how much attention is being paid, to this ‘invader’.

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5 replies »

  1. Thanks for adding the film, Fiona – I’ve just done the survey, and am pleased to see that beetles predate the NZ Flatworms. We thought they didn’t have predators, here – as far as we could see, even the birds don’t want to eat them!

  2. Annie Robinson, of the School of Biological Sciences, University Aberdeen, sent me some further information……..

    An advice leaflet for gardeners on how to minimise the impact of New Zealand Flatworm can be found on the website http://www.opalexplorenature.org/nzflatworm and there is a map of records sent in so far http://www.opalexplorenature.org/nzflatworm/results-map. Any questions please just ask.”

    If you would like to contact Annie about the flatworm situation, her email address is – annierobinson@abdn.ac.uk

    • The Flatworms eat them!!!!!

      But….. but……. but – I’m just about to write about…..the return of the Native to our garden!!!! Yay!!!!

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