Flatworm trackers identify two new species

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There are lots of creepy, creepy things in the ground, and organisms like worms, snails, and slugs are essential to the health of the planet.

But flatworms, a subset of creatures that feed on these soil dwellers, threaten the dirt of the world. Now scientists have identified two new species of animals – and named one after covid-19.

It is Humbertium covidum, and although the specimens studied have been found in France and Italy, it may also be found in China, Japan and Russia.

In an article in the journal PeerJ, the researchers say their origin is unclear, but the flatworms are thought to enter the soil of different continents via the global plant trade.

The black, smooth, hammer-headed, metallic-looking worm is just over an inch long, but has the potential to become invasive. The binge feeding of flatworms allows them to outcompete many other soil animals, making the land less fertile and less stable. A 2012 study estimated that New Zealand flatworms Arthurdendyus triangulatus killed 20% of some earthworm populations in the UK and Ireland.

The researchers say they named the newly identified hammerhead flatworm after covid-19 in a nod to the pandemic that enabled the research.

“Due to the pandemic, during the shutdowns, most of us were at home, with our lab closed,” Jean-Lou Justine, a professor at the National Museum of National History in Paris, said in a statement. “No field expedition was possible. I convinced my colleagues to gather all the information we had on these flatworms, to do the computer analyzes and finally to write this very long article.”

Justine said the name was also meant to pay tribute to victims of the coronavirus.

The other species was named Diversibipalium mayottensis. It is not known how he got to the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. Researchers say the blue-green flatworm may have originated in Mozambique.

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