OAKTON, Va. (DC News Now) — The Ambrose family clears dead hammerhead worms from their driveway in Oakton every morning. It’s been a ritual for the past two months, when they first spotted a 14-inch hammerhead worm slithering in front of their home.
Their family dog, Peanut, had the first unpleasant encounter with the worm.
“Peanut’s running up to the house off her leash as she always does and here across the driveway is a stretched out 14-inch worm,” Kevin Ambrose said.
Ambrose said the worm stuck to Peanut’s legs and wrapped around her body before splitting in half.
He said he later picked up another hammerhead worm. This time, the worm split into four fragments and squirmed off into the grass.
Ambrose, an engineer who also writes for The Washington Post, has since become something of an expert on the worms.
“They emit a toxin. The same neurotoxin that pufferfish have. If you handle them, you have to wash your hands immediately,” he said.
The worms are slightly brown and yellow in color, grow well beyond a foot long and have crescent-shaped heads.
George Mason University ecology professor Chris Jones, studies invasive species in the region. He said that there are at least eight species of hammerhead worms, which originated in Asia and first appeared in the U.S. in 1901. He said that lately they have been spotted frequently. He pointed to the advent of the Gypsy moth in the U.S. as a similar phenomenon.
“It hangs around at a very low level. There are things that kind of hang out cryptically and then take off for various reasons,” Jones said.
He said the worms are not seriously harmful to humans, though the toxins on their slimy skin could be irritating. Jones said that pets could get very sick if they ingest the worms, which happened to Peanut.
Ambrose said Peanut vomited a worm and was sick for several hours.
The environmentally ethical thing to do is to dispose of the worms, according to Jones. He said they are harmful to earthworms, which are a crucial component of our region’s ecosystem.
He advises to pour salt on the worms, let them sit for a few minutes, put on gloves and place them in a plastic bag. He said to then throw the bag in the trashcan.
That’s the tactic employed by the Ambrose family. Ambrose isn’t sure if he’ll ever fully eradicate the worms from his yard, but he’ll continue to clear worms when they can.
“We’ll try to reduce the numbers as best we can just by looking out for them,” he said. “There’s patches of salt on the driveway. When worms go across the driveway, they salt themselves and they’re dead.