Hammer-headed worm

A walk through the woods is never disappointing. There is always something to see and learn. If nothing, one comes back with plenty of questions which in turn, foster learning. A recent foray into the forest turned out to be one such experience.

Something glistening on the trunk of a tree caught my attention. As I got close to the tree, I realised that a thin transparent film was the cause for this; it seemed to run all over the bark in the form of a trail. I wondered what this could be. The only creature that I could think of which was capable of leaving behind a trail in its wake was a snail. I looked around and found no snail or slug. The day ended with the question unanswered.

The following day, I renewed my search and found similar glossy trails on other trees as well until I finally found the owner of the trail. Tracking and finally locating a bright coloured – orange and black – worm was quite an experience. It turned out to be a weird creature indeed – The head was the most striking character of this creature – a ‘parashu’-shaped head!

This was in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. I managed to take some pictures of this lovely yet intriguing worm as it kept creeping up the moss covered trunk until it went beyond reach. I was walking along a trail in Anejhari (Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary) when I got the opportunity to see and photograph this colourful creature.

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This quickly brought back memories of what I had seen many years ago in the forests of Agumbe. I had seen something similar, but it was a dark chocolate brown in colour, prominent on a green leaf and covered with slime. I had completely forgotten about this encounter.

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Earlier this year, I again happened to spot this worm. It was in the northeast, in the rain drenched forests of Namdapha, where I saw a very dark coloured worm on a fallen log. The diversity of things that we saw in the forest muted my memory of this.

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On my return from Anejhari, my search for the identity of this worm began. Very soon not only did I learn the identity of this creature but also some interesting information about it. These worms with an odd shaped head turned out to be the Hammer-headed Worms. These are essentially flat worms that are terrestrial.

The most astonishing fact was that these seemingly harmless worms are predatory – with some feeding on earthworms and others on snails and their relatives! They use the very sticky mucus and physical strength to capture their prey.

And, what is more, they are rarely predated upon – possibly, the slimy secretions on their body are too repulsive for potential predators. You may be wondering – without predators, these worms should be seen more frequently. Here is the icing on the cake. They are known to be cannibals! This perhaps explains why they are not very common.

Though Hammer-headed worms are distributed over Asia, their presence is restricted to areas which have conditions conducive to their survival. As they are incapable of retaining water, they are seen in areas that are wet and that experience heavy rainfall.

So the next time you happen to be in a wet forest and see a Hammer-headed Worm, it is perfectly alright to gaze at it with amazement or for that matter let your jaws drop as you watch it make its way through the woods.

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