New Guinea Flatworm Invading Florida, United States-Truth! & Unproven! 

Summary of eRumor:

New Guinea Flatworm invading Florida, other parts of the United States, pose a major public safety threat.

The Truth:

Credible New Guinea Flatworm public health warnings have been circulating in South Florida since 2015 — but it’s not clear that there was an elevated threat when reports from 2015 about New Guinea Flatworms invading Florida resurfaced in 2017.

The earliest reports of the so-called New Guinea Flatworm invasion were published in mid-2015. The Miami Herald reported that researchers had found the New Guinea Flatworm in the United States for the first time:

It has a goo-spewing mouth on its belly, is covered in toxic slime, hosts a brain-eating parasite and, like any ambitious mutant monster, the New Guinea flatworm is invading the U.S. by way of sunny Miami.

There’s also this: the worm is hermaphroditic, so it can multiply anywhere, anytime. No assistance needed.

Researchers last month confirmed for the first time that the Pacific island flatworm has been found on the U.S. mainland in four locations around Miami-Dade County. Even tony Coral Gables. The nocturnal creeper clocks in at just two inches, looking more like a smudge of snot than an agile predator. But don’t be fooled by its sluggish demeanor. At mealtime, the worm goes full-on Alien, posing a potentially serious threat to South Florida’s already fragile native snail population.

“It is really vile,” said David Robinson, the nation’s chief snail scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “As a biologist I can handle most things, but I find this really revolting.”

Scientists worry the worm — which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the planet’s 100 most invasive species — could spread by being transported in garden soil or on plants.

Reports of the New Guinea Flatworm invasion kept popping up over the next year about positive confirmation of the New Guinea Flatworm in 2015. Sanibal Island officials reported in August 2016 that the New Guinea Flatworm had been found there in September 2015 and was later positively identified. In July 2016, Fox 4 Now reported that New Guinea Flatworm had found in Coral Gables since September 2015. The Palm Beach Post reported that the New Guinea Flatworm invasion was “spreading across Southwest Florida in mid-2016, again relying on positive confirmations of the worm from 2015.

The effect of various outlets reporting and re-reporting instances of the New Guinea Flatworm gave people the impression that either the worm had just been positively confirmed, or that it was rapidly spreading. We couldn’t find any evidence to prove either of those things true.

That all came together in February 2017 when the news site America Now ran a story under the headline, “Deadly New Guinea Flatworms Found in South Florida.” The report aggregated old reports about the New Guinea flatworm from 2015 and 2016 and repackaged them in a way that made it appear that the  New Guinea Flatworm invasion was a breaking story. Again, this report cites positive confirmations of the worm from 2015 — and creates a false sense that this is a developing or breaking news story.

In the end, the New Guinea Flatworm was identified in Florida for the first time in 2015. However, the effect of news outlets re-reporting the same accounts from 2015 over the last several years has created possibly inaccurate impressions about the so-called New Guinea Flatworm invasion. For that reason, we’re calling this one “truth” and “unproven.”

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 02/03/2017