Obama flatworm discovered in Oxfordshire!

Obama Flatworm Facts and Figures:

  • Obama flatworm, Obama nungara
  • ‘Obama’ comes from the Tupi language. Leaf (oba) and animal (ma).
  • Originally from Brazil
  • Grows to 7cm
  • Eats snails and worms

Head of Horticulture at the Horticultural Trades Association, the HTA, Raoul Curtis-Machin comments:

“This discovery is a concern to the industry. Although unexpected, it’s not a great surprise because there have been incidences of flatworms before … We want to safeguard the rich diversity and broader benefits of exotic plants and gardens, whilst minimising the risk to our native species from imported stock.”

Journey of the Oxfordshire Obama flatworm

  1. Heuchera imported from the Netherlands

    heuchera plant in pot
    heuchera plant in pot
  2. 4.5cm flatworm found in Oxfordshire
  3. Worm sent to Richard Lewington, wildlife artist
  4. Lewington worked with Hugh Jones national flatworm recorder
  5. Identification complete: Obama nungara – the Obama Flatworm

Why is the Obama Flatworm a problem in the UK?

Ecology is a delicate balance of plant and animal life. When a new animal or plant is introduced suddenly and without warning, the eco-system can go into shock, and the repercussions can be extensive. The Obama flatworm’s penchant for our native snails and worms will endanger the soil’s fertility! As an island nation that relies heavily on farming and agriculture, anything that messes with the fertility of the soil could bring our production to a halt! Curtis-Machin went on: “It [the finding of the Obama flatworm] will feed into discussions with [the] government about how we can all strengthen biosecurity … It illustrates the importance of traceability in the supply chain, which is something we are working on with a prototype plant health management system for nurseries.”

Why are our supply chains not more heavily regulated?

It is estimated that around £1billion of plants are imported each year into the UK and as it stands: “for the vast majority there are no biosecurity measures to exclude or check for eggs or hibernating animals in the soil”. The woods of the UK were radically affected by the imported virus, Ash die-back. In response, the UK government “undertook a review of phyto-sanitary health in relation to the importation of live plants, however the review did not consider the wider biosecurity issue associated with importing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of soil into the UK every year.  Plant health is an easier problem to address than biosecurity.” The frustrating issue here is acknowledging that here in the UK, we should be able to have full control of our borders. We should be able to control the movement of plants on and off of our island; just look at how successful Australia is at controlling their borders and prohibiting any soil based items entry to their islands!

Has this happened before?

Yes! Buglife, in fact, suggest on their site that the New Guinea flatworm that has arrived in France is one of the “100 worst invasive alien species” in the world; the UK government needs to do something and quickly to prevent the New Guinea flatworm from crossing the pond! This is a list compiled by Buglife that they suggest are other non-native, invasive species that are very likely to have arrived in the UK via the trade in pot plants:

  • Rosemary leaf-beetle
  • Australian flatworm
  • New Zealand flatworm
  • Spanish slug
  • Lily beetle
  • Oak processionary moth
  • Asian hornet
  • Harlequin ladybird
  • Three-lined Balkan slug
  • Yellow and green cellar slugs 

What can I do as a consumer?

Simple, buy British! Curtis-Machin states: “Consumers should buy British to avoid aiding and abetting biosecurity breaches.  Peat use and neonicotinoid contamination are other environmental issues associated with the pot plant industry.”

But what has happened to Obama? Well, the flatworm?

The worm is still alive! (unlike Dave the UK’s longest earthworm!)

obama flatworm obama nungara
The Obama Flatworm – Obama Nungara.