A new kind of invasive species — a hammerhead worm that can grow to a foot, eats earthworms and produces tetrodotoxin — has been sighted over 100 times by citizen scientists in Georgia using the social networking service iNaturalist.
David Lodge is an expert on invasive species, a conservation biologist and director of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. He says the hammerhead worm has likely been lurking for a long while before its recent discovery, U.S. policies still allow for invasive species to take hold from anywhere in the world, and new digital platforms that engage citizen scientists are valuable tools in identifying the spread of invasive species.
“The hammerhead worm is one example of the ‘discovery’ of species that invaded long ago, but often go unseen or unrecognized. The introduction of such species in the soils imported with living plants is really no surprise. Although we’ve made some progress in slowing the introduction and spread of some species, U.S. policies still allow the intentional importation of most species from anywhere in the world.
“iNaturalist is one of many recent technological developments and digital platforms that are increasing our knowledge of the plants and animals around us, and often by engaging more citizen scientists. eBird is doing that for birds. These platforms allow us to gather and make available much faster information about natural history observations that would otherwise remain hidden in one person’s brain.
“Then there are other technologies that make it possible to detect otherwise unseen species. These include environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect invasive species like Asian Carp in the Great Lakes region, and drones to warn swimmers of Great White Sharks off the coast of California.”
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