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Model of Bipalium strubelli
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Platyhelminthes
Order: Tricladida
Family: Geoplanidae
Subfamily: Bipaliinae
Genus: Bipalium
Stimpson, 1857[1]
Type species
Bipalium fuscatum
Stimpson, 1857
  • Sphyrocephalus Schmarda, 1859
  • Dunlopea Wright, 1860
  • Bipaliura Stimpson, 1861
  • Perocephalus von Graff, 1896 (in part)
  • Placocephalus von Graff, 1896 (in part)
  • Sphaerocephalus Loman, 1888

Bipalium is a genus of large predatory land planarians. They are often loosely called "hammerhead worms" or "broadhead planarians" because of the distinctive shape of their head region. Land planarians are unique in that they possess a "creeping sole", a highly ciliated region on the ventral epidermis that helps them to creep over the substrate.[2] Native to Asia, several species are invasive to the United States,[3] Canada, and Europe.[4][5] Some studies have begun the investigation of the evolutionary ecology of these invasive planarians.[6]


The name Bipalium comes from Latin bi-, "two" + pala, "shovel" or "spade", because species in this genus resemble a pickaxe.[7]


The genus Bipalium was initially defined by Stimpson to include land planarians with the head broadened, forming a head plate. Later, in 1899, Ludwig von Graff divided it into three genera according to the shape of the head:[8]

  1. Bipalium: with a well-developed head plate, much broader than long, and with elongated lateral auricles
  2. Perocephalus: rudimentary head plate, not much broader than the body
  3. Placocephalus: flat head plate with a circular outline

Josef Müller, in 1902, considered that no sufficient anatomical basis existed for this distinction, and reunited them under Bipalium. Later, von Graff accepted Müller's conclusions.[8]

Towards the end of the 20th century, Robert E. Ogren and Masaharu Kawakatsu started a series of publications called "The Land Planarian Index series" in which they reviewed and organized all taxonomic information regarding land planarians. At first, they retained all broad-headed planarians in the genus Bipalium, but later split them into four genera based on the anatomy of the reproductive organs: Bipalium, Novibipalium, Humbertium, and Diversibipalium.[9]

Under this scenario, the genus Bipalium is defined as containing broad-headed land planarians with simple copulatory organs, without accessory ducts or copulatory bursa, and with a fold of tissue separating the male and female exit ducts.[9]

Feeding habits[edit]

Bipalium species are predatory. Some species prey on earthworms, while others may also feed on mollusks.[10][11] These flatworms can track their prey.[12] When captured, earthworms begin to react to the attack, but the flatworm uses the muscles in its body, as well as sticky secretions, to attach itself to the earthworm to prevent escape. The planarians cover, or cap, the prostomium, peristomium, and anterior end to stop the violent reaction by the earthworm.[13]

To feed on their prey, species of Bipalium often evert their pharynges from their mouths, located on the midventral portion of their bodies, and secrete enzymes that begin the digestion of the prey. The liquefied tissues are sucked into the branching gut of the flatworms by ciliary action.[14]


Reproduction in Bipalium may be asexual or sexual and all species are hermaphroditic.

B. adventitium reproduces sexually and creates egg capsules, which hatch around 3 weeks post-deposition. The egg capsules have a tough exterior and generally contain multiple juveniles.[6]

B. kewense have rarely been observed using egg capsules as a primary method of reproduction. Asexual fragmentation is its main reproductive strategy in temperate regions and most individuals never develop sexual organs.[15] Juveniles of this species, unlike B. adventitium, do not appear the same coloration as parents in their early days.[16]


In 2014, the presence of tetrodotoxin, a very dangerous neurotoxin, was recorded in B. adventitium and B. kewense.[17] It is the first record of tetrodotoxin in terrestrial invertebrates.

Invasive species[edit]

Drawings of the anterior region of 6 species of the genus Bipalium, showing the differences in shape and color. With the exception of B. nobile, they are invasive species in the United States. B. nobile is assumed to be an invasive species in Tokyo, Japan.

Little is known about the ecology of terrestrial planarians, but research has been done on different genera and species, including several native and invasive species in Brazil,[18] Arthurdendyus triangulatus,[19] Rhynchodemus [20] and Bipalium.[21]

As of 2007, four invasive species of Bipalium were known in the United States: B. adventitium, B. kewense, B. pennsylvanicum, and B. vagum.[11] These planarians are thought to have come to the US on infected plants and soil.[22]

Bipalium kewense has been found commonly in American greenhouses since 1901.[23] This species is a voracious predator of earthworms, and has been identified as a nuisance in the southern USA in earthworm-rearing beds.[24] Control of the species is difficult due to the lack of predators. As noted by the University of Florida IFAS department,

Other animals rarely devour land planarians, since surface secretions appear distasteful, if not toxic. Protozoans, including flagellates, ciliates, sporozoans, and nematodes have been detected in land planarians. Because of their cannibalistic habit, land planarians may be their own worst enemy.[25]

Specimens of Bipalium adventitium are characterized by a single dark dorsal stripe. They were first discovered in the US in California and New York[26] but have been found in Illinois[27] as well as most northern states.[6] In 2019, they were discovered in Montreal, Canada.[28] B. kewense have five dark dorsal stripes and a partial dark collar. They have undergone several name changes since their discovery in North America. B. kewense is commonly found across the southern regions of the US.[16] B. kewense is found worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions.[15] Bipalium pennsylvanicum is characterized by its dark brown head and three dorsal stripes. As of 2014, it has only been found in Pennsylvania[29] and in coastal South Carolina. Bipalium vagum is characterized by two dark dorsal blotches on the head, a thick black band around the neck, and three dark dorsal stripes. This species has been found in several Gulf Coast states,[11] and in 2022, specimens were located extending further north into Arkansas.[30] Recently, it was found in Mumbai, India.[citation needed][when?]

Image gallery[edit]


The genus Bipalium currently includes the following species:


  1. ^ Stimpson (1857). "Prodromus descriptionis animalium evertebratorum quæ in Expeditione ad Oceanum, Pacificum Septentrionalem a Republica Federata missa, Johanne Rodgers Duce, observavit er descripsit. Pars I. Turbellaria Dendrocœla". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 9: 25. JSTOR 4059187.
  2. ^ Curtis, S.K.; Cowden, R.R.; Moore, J.D.; Robertson, J.L. (1983). "Histochemical and ultrastructural features of the epidermis of land planarian Bipalium adventitium". Journal of Morphology. 175 (2): 171–194. doi:10.1002/jmor.1051750206. PMID 30060639. S2CID 51875789.
  3. ^ Ogren, R.E. 1985. The human factor in the spread of an exotic land planarian in Pennsylvania. Proc. of the Penn. Acad. of Sci. 59: 117-118.
  4. ^ Justine, Jean-Lou; Winsor, Leigh; Gey, Delphine; Gros, Pierre; Thévenot, Jessica (2018). "Giant worms chez moi! Hammerhead flatworms (Platyhelminthes, Geoplanidae, Bipalium spp., Diversibipalium spp.) in metropolitan France and overseas French territories". PeerJ. 6: e4672. doi:10.7717/peerj.4672. PMC 5969052. PMID 29844951. Open access icon
  5. ^ Filella-Subira, E (1983). ""Nota sobre la presència de la planària terrestre Bipalium kewense Moseley, 1878 a Catalunya"". Butll. Inst. Cat. Hist. Nat. 49: 151.
  6. ^ a b c Ducey, P. K.; West, L. J.; Shaw, G.; De Lisle, J. (2005). "Reproductive ecology and evolution in the invasive terrestrial planarian Bipalium adventitium across North America". Pedobiologia. 49 (4): 367. doi:10.1016/j.pedobi.2005.04.002.
  7. ^ Stimpson, W. (1861). "On the genus Bipaliura". American Journal of Science and Arts. Series 2. 31: 134–135.
  8. ^ a b Ogren, R. E.; Kawakatsu, M. (1987). "Index to the species of the genus Bipalium (Turbellaria, Tricladida, Terricola)". The Bulletin of Fuji Women's College. Series 2. 25 (2): 79–119.Open access icon
  9. ^ a b Kawakatsu, M.; Ogren, R. E.; Froehlich, E. M.; Sasaki, G. (2002). "Additions and corrections to the previous land planarian indices of the world (Turbellaria, Seriata, Tricladida, Terricola) - 10". The Bulletin of Fuji Women's College. Series II. 40: 162–177.Open access icon
  10. ^ Ogren, R. E. (1995). "Predation behaviour of land planarians". Hydrobiologia. 305 (1–3): 105–111. doi:10.1007/BF00036370. S2CID 31413150.
  11. ^ a b c Ducey, Peter K.; McCormick, Matthew; Davidson, Elizabeth (2007). "Natural history observations on Bipalium cf. vagum Jones and Sterrer, 2005 (Platyhelminthes: Tricladida), a terrestrial broadhead planarian new to North America". Southeastern Naturalist. 6 (3): 449–460. doi:10.1656/1528-7092(2007)6[449:NHOOBC]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 4541040. S2CID 83714176.
  12. ^ Fiore, C.; Tull, J. L.; Zehner, S.; Ducey, P. K. (2004). "Tracking and predation on earthworms by the invasive terrestrial planarian Bipalium adventitium (Tricladida, Platyhelminthes)". Behavioural Processes. 67 (3): 327–334. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2004.06.001. PMID 15518983. S2CID 23159802.
  13. ^ Ducey, P. K.; Messere, M.; Lapoint, K.; Noce, S. (1999). "Lumbricid Prey and Potential Herpetofaunal Predators of the Invading Terrestrial Flatworm Bipalium adventitium (Turbellaria: Tricladida: Terricola)". The American Midland Naturalist. 141 (2): 305. doi:10.1674/0003-0031(1999)141[0305:LPAPHP]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 84249249.
  14. ^ Dindal, D.L. (1970). "Feeding behavior of a terrestrial turbellarian Bipalium adventitium". The American Midland Naturalist. 83 (2): 635–637. doi:10.2307/2423970. JSTOR 2423970.
  15. ^ a b Winsor, L. (1983). "A revision of the cosmopolitan land planarian Bipalium kewense Moseley, 1878 (Turbellaria: Tricladida: Terricola)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 79 (1): 61–100. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1983.tb01161.x. ISSN 0024-4082.
  16. ^ a b Ducey, P. K.; Cerqua, J.; West, L. J.; Warner, M. (2006). Eberle, Mark E (ed.). "Rare Egg Capsule Production in the Invasive Terrestrial Planarian Bipalium kewense". The Southwestern Naturalist. 51 (2): 252. doi:10.1894/0038-4909(2006)51[252:RECPIT]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 85970661.
  17. ^ Stokes, A. N.; Ducey, P. K.; Neuman-Lee, L.; Hanifin, C. T.; French, S. S.; Pfrender, M. E.; Brodie, E. D.; Brodie Jr., E. D. (2014). "Confirmation and Distribution of Tetrodotoxin for the First Time in Terrestrial Invertebrates: Two Terrestrial Flatworm Species (Bipalium adventitium and Bipalium kewense)". PLOS ONE. 9 (6): e100718. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...9j0718S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100718. PMC 4070999. PMID 24963791.
  18. ^ Leal-Zanchet, A. M.; Baptista, V.; Campos, L. M.; Raffo, J. F. (2011). "Spatial and temporal patterns of land flatworm assemblages in Brazilian Araucaria forests". Invertebrate Biology. 130: 25–33. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7410.2010.00215.x.
  19. ^ Jones, H. D. and B. Boag. 2001. The invasion of New Zealand flatworms. Glasgow Naturalist 23(supplement):77–83.
  20. ^ Ogren, R.E. (1955). "Ecological observations on the occurrence of Rhynchodemus, a terrestrial turbellarian". Transactions of the American Microscopical Society. 74 (1): 54–60. doi:10.2307/3223842. JSTOR 3223842.
  21. ^ Ducey, P. K.; Noce, S. (1998). "Successful invasion of New York State by the terrestrial flatworm, Bipalium adventitium". Northeastern Naturalist. 5 (3): 199–206. doi:10.2307/3858619. JSTOR 3858619.
  22. ^ "Hammerhead Worm | National Invasive Species Information Center". www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  23. ^ Esser, R. P. 1981. Land Planarians (Tricladida: Terricola). Contribution no. 227, Bureau of Nematology, Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry, Gainesville, Fl.
  24. ^ Hyman, L. H. 1951. The Invertebrates: Platyhelminthes and Rhynchocoela the acoelomate Bilateria, McGraw-Hill Book Co., London, 550 p.
  25. ^ Choate, P.M., and Dunn, R.A., 1988. Land Planarians, Bipalium kewense Moseley and Dolichoplana striata Moseley (Tricladida: Terricola), IFAS Document EENY-049. Online:Available http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN20600.pdf
  26. ^ Hyman, L.H. 1954. Some land planarians of the United States and Europe, with remarks on nomenclature. American Museum Novitates (1667): 1-21.
  27. ^ Zaborski, E. 2002. Observations on feeding behavior by the terrestrial flatworm Bipalium adventitium (Platyhelminthes: Tricladida :Terricola) from Illinois. Am. Midl. Nat. 148: 401-408.
  28. ^ Justine, J-L; et al. (2019). "First record of the invasive land flatworm Bipalium adventitium (Platyhelminthes, Geoplanidae) in Canada" (PDF). Zootaxa. 4656 (3): zootaxa.4656.3.13. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4656.3.13. PMID 31716820. S2CID 202024206.
  29. ^ Ogren, Robert E. (1987). "Description of a new three-lined planarian of the genus Bipalium (Turbellaria: Tricladida) from Pennsylvania, U.S.A.". Transactions of the American Microscopical Society. 106 (1): 21–30. doi:10.2307/3226281. JSTOR 3226281.
  30. ^ Newsdesk, Region 8 (23 June 2022). "Dangerous species of worm found in Arkansas". kait8.com. Retrieved 2022-06-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Soo, Oi Yoon Michelle; Gastineau, Romain; Verdon, George; Winsor, Leigh; Justine, Jean-Lou (2023-05-03). "Rediscovery of Bipalium admarginatum de Beauchamp, 1933 (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Geoplanidae) in Malaysia, with molecular characterisation including the mitogenome". Zootaxa. 5277 (3): 585–599. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.5277.3.11. ISSN 1175-5334. PMID 37518300. Open access icon
  32. ^ Justine, Jean-Lou; Winsor, Leigh; Soo, Michelle; Gastineau, Romain (2023-07-11). "Last seen 90 years ago, strange worm species is found crawling in Malaysia". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-07-13.
  33. ^ a b Solà, E., Sluys, R., Riutort, M., Kawakatsu, M. (18 August 2023). "Molecular phylogenetics facilitates the first historical biogeographic analysis of the hammerhead worms (Platyhelminthes: Tricladida: Bipaliinae), with the description of twelve new species and two new genera". Zootaxa. 5335 (1): 1–77. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.5335.1.1. ISSN 1175-5334. S2CID 260985829.

External links[edit]