Sparrow and Finch Gardening A new flatworm species from Asia that has been found in our gardens

A new flatworm species from Asia that has been found in our gardens

In metropolitan France, a hundred new animal or plant species are described every year. Most of these species are native and have been here for many years, but scientists have not noticed them. is reporting a brand new species that has been found in France. This species was introduced and could even be a threat to our gardens.

This species is the size of a knuckle on your little finger. Like all flatworms with hammer heads, this species has a larger head. The colour of the flatworm is very unusual: it’s black and resembles “liquid metal”. Name: Humbertium Covidum. We will return to this name in a moment.

How can you tell species apart?

Since about ten to fifteen years ago, we’ve known that flatworms are invading the gardens of France. Our team reported and mapped this invasion of several species, including the New Guinea flatworms (Platydemus Manokwari), giant hammerhead worms such as Bipalium kewense and the strangely named Obama nungara. This one species alone has infested over 70 departments across France. Also, we have reported on recent invasions overseas.

For a species to be given a designation, scientists need to be convinced that it is a new species and explain why. The shape and color of the organism should be described accurately in all cases. Often, it’s also important to describe the sexual organs that are unique and characteristic of a species. Flatworms have this problem: Some species reproduce only asexually and do not possess sex organs. It is easy to imagine how difficult it would be to distinguish them. We used molecular techniques to characterise mitochondrial genomes in these species.

The mitochondrial genome

mitochondrial DNA is also known as mitogenome. It is the genetic code which makes mitochondria, the small organelles, work. There are thousands of mitochondria in each cell, and they are the powerhouses for energy. The mitochondrial genome, which is found in millions of copies within an animal’s nucleus, is easier to obtain and cheaper than the nucleus genome. The mitochondrial DNA is circular and about 15,000 base pair long. It’s long enough to provide a great deal of information but short enough to easily obtain.

The mitochondrial genomes of several species, including the New Guinea Flatworm as well as the Hammerhead Worms were obtained. The characteristics of the genomes were used to distinguish the species, even when they did not have any visible sexual characteristics.

The mitochondrial DNA of the new species Humbertiumcovidum. Justine et al., 2022

New species of plants and animals in France

We found the new “metallic black” species in two gardens in France, both in the department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques, in communes separated by a hundred kilometres. The department of Pyrenees Atlantictiques is known for being a paradise for flatworms from around the world. This is due to its mild climate and humidity. In both cases, there were very few black individuals.

We wondered at the start of our research if these were not simply black variants of Bipalium kewense that was also found in those gardens. The black species was clearly different after a close look at the specimens’ morphology and their genome. We searched the scientific literature to see if this species was described anywhere else, especially in tropical Asia. This is where these hammerhead worms are from. There were a few mentions of similar animals, but no more.

It’s not just Italy.

We were alerted towards the end of 2019 that a black species had been proliferating on a field in Veneto. Hundreds of black worms were very active and mobile in the early morning hours. The black worm was then reported in other reports. The mitochondrial genomes of individuals in France and Italy were almost identical, indicating that the species was the same.

It was, therefore, necessary to give the species a Latin Name.

In Italy, the new species Humbertium Covidum was filmed.

Name of the new species

It is essential to assign a name to any species. This will be the first step in any future study. It is vital that you are able to identify species that may be considered invasive and, therefore, attract the attention of legislators. The laws and decrees will use Latin names to ensure the correct identification of species.

The Latin names of species are binomial. Each Latin name has a genus and species name. The genus is called “Humbertium” because it has the characters. This genus was described in 2001. We chose ” covidum” as the name for the new species. This name is obviously based on the “Covid” virus. Why? We started the work in 2020 when our labs were under the Covid Pandemic Regulation Lockdown. As the pandemic spread, we decided to name the species in honour of the victims. We decided that ” Covidum ” was a good name for an organism that could invade the world, and come from Asia.

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