It rarely fails that you’ll find lots of creepy crawlies in your garden and around your landscaping. From insects that look downright monstrous to every kind of worm, snake, and other unsettling creature.
However much we might detest certain ones, almost all of them have a vital part to play in the ecosystem, including the self-contained ecosystem of our own gardens. Most, but not all.
Take the hammerhead worm for instance, an invasive species notorious for wiping out earthworms and other organisms that help to maintain and replenish the soil.
Wherever you find them in North America, you should get rid of them, but it’s not easy. How can you get rid of hammerhead worms?
Hammerhead worms are best eliminated by drowning or soaking them in acidic chemicals that will dry them out and dissolve them.
Hammerhead worms can easily regenerate and even replicate themselves after physical damage, so chemical means are the best bet for elimination.
You will rarely encounter a creature that is just so alien as the hammerhead worm. Left uncontrolled, hammerhead worms can easily take over an area and wipe out many smaller creatures that are vital for the soil and therefore vital for plants.
They have no natural predators in North America, so it is up to us to send them to the great beyond. This article will serve as your guide for the battle to come. Grab your gloves and keep reading.
Table of Contents
So What is a Hammerhead Worm?
If you’ve never seen a hammerhead worm before, the picture you’re imagining right now is probably very close to how they actually appear.
It looks like a thick, plump worm or slug, or perhaps a tiny snake, with a flat sort of shovel-shaped head that looks almost identical to that found on a hammerhead shark.
Depending on the species, they come in a variety of colors and patterns, but all have that distinctive head, so look for that. And be warned, most are several inches long, and some can grow to be nearly one foot in length!
These creatures are what is known as land planarians, a kind of flatworm, and they are found all over the globe.
Hammerhead worms are land dwellers, and the bad news is they aren’t even native to the United States; they are another invasive species that is suspected to have first arrived here due to plant and soil imports from parts of Asia, although we aren’t totally sure.
Trust me, they are highly distinctive and easy to recognize once you know what they look like and when to look for them…
They are most active at night, and prefer to be above ground when the soil is moist, so the best time to hunt for them is after dusk or before dawn, particularly if there has been a good rain during the night.
Why Should You Get Rid of Hammerhead Worms?
This is not a creature that you can afford to play live-and-let-live with. Not if you care about your plants and the environment, anyway: hammerhead worms are an invasive species in the United States, one with absolutely no natural predators.
Even so, they are truly ferocious predators in their small part of the food chain: They prey on other tiny soil and garden dwellers like earthworms, slugs, snails, and other creatures, and they eat constantly and reproduce regularly.
This means that once even a single hammerhead worm finds a home it will quickly experience an exponential population explosion that can scour the environment of these less fortunate species.
They all play an important part in the soil and the rest of the ecosystem, and their loss will lead to degradation and then eventually a collapse of nutrients and other biomatter.
Something else to consider is that the Animals eaten by hammerhead worms- worms, snails, slugs, etc.- are also food for our other native animal species.
When hammerhead worms clear out their prey from an area, it deprives other animals higher up on the food chain, meaning they will often leave. This causes further ecological destabilization!
So as you can see, it’s up to us to get rid of these slimy alien invaders at every opportunity.
There is no bird or snake that eats these things, and as we will learn, even mammals steer clear of them. You must take the time to kill every hammerhead worm that you see not only for the benefit of your own crop and other plants, but for the health of the environment itself.
Be Careful: Hammerhead Worms are Poisonous!
One thing that complicates our efforts, and prevents other animals from taking hammerhead worms as prey, is the fact that they are dangerously poisonous. The worms use their toxins both as a defense from being eaten themselves and also to immobilize prey.
Making matters even worse is the fact that hammerhead worms secrete a particularly rare and dangerous poison called tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin that is usually found only in sea creatures, and also one that is infamous for its potency.
Handling a hammerhead worm with bare skin can lead to significant irritation and potentially even blistering of the skin.
Ingesting any of the toxin in any way, or touching mucous membranes after getting enough toxin on your skin can cause severe problems, usually starting with sweating and nausea but progressing to vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, respiratory collapse, and then finally death.
There are no recorded human deaths attributed to hammerhead worms, and they secrete only small amounts, but we know enough about the toxin to treat them gingerly!
But it is for this reason that you must take pains to keep pets well away from them or any area where they are suspected! Our pets are far more vulnerable to these toxins than people, and if they eat or even lick a hammerhead worm there could be serious health consequences.
You know everything that you need to know about these hideous little critters, now it’s time to learn how to kill them.
Getting Rid of Hammerhead Worms for Good
The first step to eliminating the menace of hammerhead worms is locating them. As I mentioned, this is much easier said than done. They are mostly nocturnal, and hide in the ground or beneath ground cover during the day.
If you want to find them, go out after dark and especially after the ground is soaked from a passing shower or thunderstorm.
Anything that gets their preferred prey, earthworms, moving will also see hammerhead worms on the hunt, and that means you’ll have an easier time spotting them.
If you’re having a hard time tracking them down, look for glistening, slug-like trails or hollowed worm casings (worm corpses, at this point, along with dead, partially dissolved snails and slugs: all are telltales of a hammerhead worm’s passage.
Once you know where to look, it’s time to get down to the business of killing them.
These Creatures Must be Totally Destroyed!
Before we go further, there is one fundamental factor that you must understand: hammerhead worms must be completely destroyed to stop them. You can’t crush them, chop them or use a garden variety poisons on them.
These creatures are very hardy, and also have impressive regeneration and self-replication abilities. Worms that are physically injured will regrow the lost part.
Sometimes I worm that is cut in two, or even one that has its head cut off, will grow into two completely separate ones!
Scary stuff, to be sure. You can’t risk only injuring it. To totally kill them, you must completely desiccate them or dissolve them in various chemicals and solutions. That way, they won’t come back…
What You’ll Need
The good news is you don’t need much in order to eradicate hammerhead worms. Something to contain your killing solution, the solution itself, gloves, a grasping tool to pick up the worm and potentially a spray bottle. That’s really it.
Check out the list below for more details:
- Container: this is for holding your chosen chemical, and so it should be leakproof and chemically resistant. You can use a heavy-duty zipper bag, a small paint bucket with lid or anything else that closes. Make sure it closes tightly, as you can’t risk the worm crawling out.
- Chemicals: a variety of chemicals will dispatch hammerhead worms, and some of them are even natural. A strong saltwater solution, water and lots of dish soap, concentrated citrus oil, white vinegar, and more. There are also over-the-counter chemicals sold for the purpose at garden centers and hardware stores.
- Sturdy Tweezers: get yourself some tweezers, hemostats, forceps or whatever if you don’t want to handle the worm directly. Make sure it has teeth and is capable of securely gripping these slimy worms which will fight to get away.
- Chemically-Resistant Gloves: it is in your best interest to wear gloves to protect yourself not only from the toxic secretions of the hammerhead worm, but also from whatever chemicals you are using to kill it. Common neoprene gloves are adequate for most tasks.
- Spray Bottle or Garden Sprayer: if you are using a particularly potent solution, it might be worth keeping some on hand in a spray bottle to dose some worms that you see while dealing with others, or to help prevent escapes. Most hammerhead worms need prolonged exposure to any of the chemicals listed above if you want to reliably kill them, but spraying them might be worthwhile, too.
Now that you’ve got your tools gathered, it’s time to do the dirty work.
How to Kill Hammerhead Worms, Step-by-Step
As mentioned above, actually killing the worm is the easy part assuming you have the right stuff. Finding it is the hard part, and this step-by-step process assumes you have already located one or more.
Simply do the following:
- Fill container with chosen chemical. Make sure that your solution is deep enough that the worm will be totally covered no matter where it goes in the container. 3 inches is a good guideline, but deeper is often better. Consider a taller, narrower container so you don’t need as much solution at once.
- Catch the worm and place it in the container. Again, make sure your solution is deep enough that the worm is totally immersed. It will thrash, put up a fight and try to crawl out, so make sure your container is sealed up tight.
- Wait. The chemicals will take time to work, either by desiccating the worm and drying it out, or by actually dissolving it which will kill it permanently. No regeneration this time!
- Dispose. Once the hammerhead worm is well and truly dead, or completely dissolved by your chemicals, you can pour out the remains into the trash or dispose of it properly depending on what kind of chemical you used. If using an over-the-counter chemical, consult the package for the manufacturer’s directions.
That’s one worm down, but I warn you there are probably many more to go. Chances are spotting a single hammerhead worm means that there are others still lurking in the area, so keep alert, keep looking and keep killing those worms!
Is it Possible to Eliminate Hammerhead Worm Infestations?
One of the most taxing and persistent problems that any gardener or homesteader can face is a serious hammerhead worm infestation. As mentioned, they have no, none, zero natural predators and so control and remediation is totally up to you.
It is possible to use the solutions you use for disposal to help control, repel and kill the worms in the environment, but you must be fully informed on what consequences those chemicals have for your plants and for other creatures in the environment.
You might be engaging in mass chemical warfare against hammerhead worms, and also wiping out other beneficial creatures in the bargain!
Regrettably, if you are dealing with a significant infestation your only option is either a long campaign of physical removal and disposal or simply obliterating the infested area with chemical means and then starting over later. These things are persistent, and difficult to get rid of, that’s for sure!
Check with Your Local Agriculture Authority if you Spot a Hammerhead Worm
If it is any consolation, federal and state governments are well aware of the problem and long-term consequences posed by hammerhead worms.
Your local agricultural authority, farm commission, fish and wildlife agency or other interested parties might well want to be informed of any hammerhead worm sightings in order to keep better track of their movements, and potentially even take up the task of eliminating them.
If you spot even a single hammerhead worm on your property, it is definitely a good idea to go ahead and notify the relevant authorities.
You’ll be doing your duty as a good citizen, and you may potentially receive some backup in your fight which will certainly be welcome.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.