Flatworm – friend or foe?

I was clearing up around the garden, trimming all the edges and exposing the slug hidey-holes to the light and the birds.  I figured it was best to reduce the populations around my garden before the plants go in.  Having said that, I didn’t actually kill any – more sort of displaced them and made them homeless refugees, so I think they may come back when the grass grows again.  That is of course unless the birds get to them.  There are loads of birds hopping about my garden at the moment, as they have hungry mouths to feed.

Mr Flatworm, may I tempt you to eggs for brekkie?
Mr Flatworm, may I tempt you to eggs for brekkie?

I did think about releasing the chickens for a bit of a free range slug feasting fest, but they can’t be trusted to only go where I want them to.  The visions of them scratching up my tiny carrot seedlings or eating my lettuce before I could get to it was enough to make me change my mind and as quickly as the thought had popped into my head it was gone again.

So I didn't get a photo of the flatworm - but I can do a spot of shameless boasting.... We took our lambs along to the annual school calf club - in the car - as you do as a former city slicker...
So I didn’t get a photo of the flatworm – but I can do a spot of shameless boasting…. We took our lambs along to the annual school calf club – in the car – as you do as a former city slicker…

But while I was clearing away the grass I caught sight of an iridescent blue worm wiggling away from my weeding efforts.  I have found worms on the whole are quite nosey and always pop up out of the soil to see what is going on and come over and have a close look.  Sometimes it is difficult to avoid giving them a little bit of a squeeze as I tug at a stubborn weed.  Well they would get in the way!  So see a pretty one going in the opposite direction to the others made me look twice.  He was quite handsome and had a dashing yellow stripe.  I’d never seen one before and I was curious, so I reached out and touched him.  But I think I hurt him.  I was being gentle, but he became damaged.

...  and came away with the champion lamb... the best of the whole show!
… and came away with the champion lamb… the best lamb of the whole show! Cups and ribbons galore!

I felt really bad.  As I’d never seen one before I wasn’t sure if he was a goodie or a baddie.  I was tempted to Google him, but I was worried that the guilt would be intensified if I found I had significantly reduced an endangered native population.  So cowardly I tried not to think about him as I carried on with my trimming and weeding.

But then I saw another one.  So I reasoned with myself that it was now safe to investigate further.  I had caused the demise of one, but let one live so I was even.  If he was a pest, then I’d taken care of one, but if they were rare and protected – there was still one in my garden to go forth and multiply.

How did you get out?  I thought we secured the perimeter
How did you get out? I thought we secured the perimeter

It took a bit of searching to discover they were flatworms of the Platyhelminthes variety and they were natives and that blue was unusual, but it didn’t say rare.  It also explained why the first one suffered greatly at my touch.  It said they were very fragile and easily damaged by a slightest touch, and would die and decompose quickly if held in captivity.

I love watching plants unfurl from the earth.
I love watching plants unfurl from the earth.

The thing is they are carnivores and have a diet of slugs and earthworms.  As a native species, we are taught to respect our flora and fauna as our country has unique collections of all sorts of wildlife.   Most of the slugs and snails that wreak havoc in our veggie gardens aren’t natives to New Zealand, but interlopers inadvertently introduced when the Europeans settled here.  So as an invading species, it is perfectly ok to dispense with them.  But the earthworms we so love in gardens are also introduced, but we think of them as welcome immigrants.  They stowed away on soil used as ballast on the settler’s ships, but were soon introduced to newly created farmlands when their benefits were recognised.

So now I’m torn.  I have a native species and two foreigners – one good and one bad.  And my native eats both foreigners.  So do I allow the local to have free reign over its ancestral land and eat slugs willy nilly, or smoosh him on sight for even considering my beloved earthworms are delectable menu options.

So I didn't realize horseradish spread until after I planted them.  What I need is a good roast beef that didn't cost an arm and a leg.
So I didn’t realize horseradish spread until after I planted them. What I need is a good roast beef that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Having said that, I have a very large garden and have being doing this for a few years now and have only seen two pretty blue flatworms with a lovely yellow stripe.  So I may just let them share my garden and help to reduce the slug population.  Hopefully it will be a decision I don’t live to regret.

Come again soon – it’s been raining again, the grass will grow again and my mower is broken again.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

9 thoughts on “Flatworm – friend or foe?

    1. Hi Elaine. It was a great day. Both the boys lambs came when they called them, which is always a bit nerve wracking deliberately letting lambs loose in a crowded place, and they managed to led nicely around the course without having to be pushed, and without much fussing we seemed to have reared them well too. And then just as it was all finished and everyone was tidying up, the heavens opened and the next 10 days forecasted rain began, so as annoying as it is to have so much rain in the future it’s start was perfectly timed! Cheers Sarah : o )

  1. You make them sound as though they have the wisdom of the ancients or something equally mysterious and magical. I bet slugs are easier to catch and eat than earthworms.

  2. I am with leaving the flatworms as nature has a way of balancing herself out and if flatworms are present, methinks you might have too many of the slugs, snails and even earthworms that attracted the flatworms to your garden in the first place. Pretty worms? Awesome! I reckon your garden is full of worms. A few being snarfed by a flatworm while it is waiting for a slug might have to be considered collateral damage. Cheers for the info about the horseradish. I know it is as good as comfrey for tunnel mining heavy clay soil and need to get some but I didn’t know that it spread… I need to source some now. Might be a good time to go hunting for it methinks now that it is making an appearance all over again for spring. “Go Flatworms!” 🙂

    1. Hi Fran. The flatworms are staying – but possibly only because they are so pretty. If they were a bit ugly, slimey and creepy.. well that would be another story. Smoosh on sight! I didn’t realise horseradish spread either – until a week after I planted it – I read and heard it from a couple of different sources, If it helps break up your soil then go for it. I only planted one! Cheers Sarah : o )

      1. I bought one ages ago but forgot it and it expired. I need to get another one as it is almost as good as comfrey for breaking up heavy clay soil. We have heavy clay soil that sets into a kind of porcelain over our long dry summers and our silty top soil ends up being hydrophobic and as we are on a steep slope, it is hard to keep water in the soil for any length of time. We have sheoaks at the top of our property (can survive on very little water) and tea trees at the bottom (swamp trees). We live in the middle bit so are doing our best to break up and ameliorate our soil with lots of organic matter. That’s when we discovered the rocks in the soil. Sometimes it never rains but it pours but permaculture taught us that everything has a use (the silver lining way of looking at things) and once we get those rocks out of the soil we can reuse them as mulch, to stabalise things and to build structures. People say that horseradish can be a bit invasive. I say “bring it on!” I love food plants that are hardy, spread easily and look after themselves. The best kind of food. I am planning on getting my Jerusalem artichoke patch up and running and transferring the tubers all over the place to form little stands of “food” everywhere and to break up the soil. Still need to get hold of that comfrey though 😉

  3. Hey Sarah … great post. I so enjoyed the read. These flatworms are a newie to me. Never heard of them. I think I would probably leave them alone as well, unless there were scores of them and no earthworms. Then watch out Mr Blue. Congrats on the champion lamb – how exciting! Your post made me realise that my horseradish hasn’t popped up again this season. Must go and get some more, it is wonderful stuff and makes the best mustard there is!

    1. Hi Julie. I’ve never seen flatworms before either, so they can stay. I’ve never really used horseradish before, but want to try it with some roast beef. If it wasn’t so expensive. I may need to swap some fresh veggies with a local farmer…
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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