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The eyes have it

Monday 11th January

The eyes have it

A species of flatworm, so new to science it doesn’t even have a name yet, has recently been confirmed at our Attenborough Nature Reserve, near Nottingham.

The flatworm was discovered two days before the end of the year as part of a personal challenge by Tim Sexton, Assistant Manager at the Attenborough Nature Centre, to find 1,000 species on the site in just 12 months. During the challenge Tim found around 1200 species including 10 never before recorded in the county.

Amongst the last species to be recorded was a flatworm found under a log in the Nature Centre garden. The creature looked like a small chestnut coloured slug that was lacking tentacles but its most interesting feature was that despite measuring little more than 1cm in length, it had between 50 and 60 eyes!

After taking a few photos Tim, realised it was a species of flatworm. Speaking about his find Tim: “There are only around 14 species of flatworm in the UK, of which only three or four are thought to be truly native. It was therefore quite easy to eliminate the possibility of it being a known species in the UK. After a little more research it became apparent that it was identical to a flatworm found on a nature reserve in Cambridgeshire in 2012 which had never been seen before – anywhere in the world.”

The specimen from Attenborough was sent to Dr Hugh Jones, an associate of the Natural History Museum and an expert in flatworms, who confirmed that it was the same species as the Cambridgeshire find.

Whilst it is yet to be formally named, we have been informed that it belongs to the family of Marionfyfea. There is only one other species of this genus in the world – which is found in the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand!

It is thought that the species found both here and in Cambridgeshire also originated in New Zealand and made its way to the UK on imported plants.

Flatworms are very simple relatives of earthworms. They often have flattened bodies that lack blood vessels and respiratory organs. Little is known about their biology and few people would have heard of them were it not for another ‘alien’ species of flatworm, also from New Zealand, which recently hit the headlines - after they were found to feed on native worms.

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