SHARE
COPY LINK

ENVIRONMENT

Obama worm: Flesh eating flatworm with hundreds of eyes poses new threat to Spanish wildlife

An invasive flatworm that has been accidentally imported from South America is posing a new threat to soil health and wildlife in one of Spain’s most fragile ecosystems.

Obama worm: Flesh eating flatworm with hundreds of eyes poses new threat to Spanish wildlife
The Obama Nungara is the latest invasive species to threaten Spanish wildlife. Photo: SEO /Birdlife

The Obama flatworm (Obama nungara) which can grow up to 7cm long and has hundreds of tiny eyes distributed across the length of its body has been discovered thriving in the rice paddies of the Parc Natural de L'Albufera in Valencia.

Named after the Brazilian Tupi words for leaf (oba) and animal (ma) – and not for any connection with former US President Barrack Obama – the  is a species of land planarian that is thought to have crossed the Atlantic into Europe via exotic pot plants imported from Brazil. 

These flatworms prey on earthworms and land snails and pose a threat to the native earthworm population considered essential for soil health,  as they aerate and fertilise the earth, maintain its structure and support plant growth. 

Not only would the diminishing native invertebrate population have a negative impact on soil quality – making soil less able to absorb water and therefore increase flood risk but also affect crop production, but the invasive species could have a huge impact higher up the food chain, affecting bird life.

They have no known natural predators as are apparently foul tasting that birds would not attempt to eat one more than once.

Conservationist group SEO / Birdlife has raised the alarm over the Obama worms.

“Due to its route of entry through potted plants the invasive exotic planarian have can become abundant in certain areas, such as like gardens, parks, nurseries or garden centers,” the NGO said in a statement.

“Although their impact on local biodiversity may seem minor, since they are generalist predators of terrestrial invertebrates, such as earthworms and native snails, the settlement of a population of these species could have a negative impact on the natural spaces it colonizes.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

SHOW COMMENTS