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Terrestrial Flatworms - August 11, 2010

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Yesterday was one of those south Florida down pours - all day long.  We had about 3 inches of rain.  Just as earthworms can’t breathe below ground when the earth becomes saturated, neither can terrestrial flatworms.  This morning was a great day for flatworm discovery on my patio.  I expected to see the common Bipalium kewense but was thrilled to see two of them on the patio.  I video taped these two and then went about my business.  

On my way to the pool to swim laps, I looked down and saw what I first thought to be more terrestrial leaches but realized they were too small.  I went ahead and swam but got to thinking about them in the pool.  It dawned on me they were flat like leaches but much smaller than the one I found before.  I realized it might be a different terrestrial flatworm. 

After a little research on the web, I found that not only is Bipalium  common to south Florida but also Dolichoplana striata.  Apparently both Bipalium and Dolichoplana feed on earthworms.  There are several reports on the web where these two genera can devastate earthworm beds.  There were two of Dolichoplana on the patio along with the two Bipalium

What is interesting to me is that on Dolichoplana,  there are no projections from the head called auricles where sense organs are often found.  However, if you look closely at some of the still photos, you’ll see what looks like eyespots.  Neither Bipalium nor Dolichoplana  can “see” but they can detect the presence or absence of light.  Dolichoplana also has the “racing stripes” found in  Bipalium but they are not as obvious.  Dolichoplana, at least on my patio, is the smaller of the two genera. 

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