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A new species worms its way in

Published: September 30, 2016

Cornwall College research

The back garden of a member of staff from Cornwall College Newquay has been the unlikely scene of a scientific discovery; a brand new species of flatworm.

The previously unclassified species of flatworm was discovered by Science Technician Elaine Roll from Cornwall College Newquay, while collecting slugs in her garden for a classroom practical lesson. The species has now been identified and described for the first time as Marionfyfea adventor in a new paper written for the Journal of Natural History by Dr Hugh Jones and Ronald Sluys.

Elaine Roll said: “It is very exciting to find out that the flatworm I found is a new species and not what I was expecting at all, I only sent it off for identification so was really surprised!  The find was a joint effort really, as we had all been asked to collect slugs for an identification practical for the students to undertake.

“Alongside my colleagues, I collected slugs and leaf litter from my garden and put them together for the students to ID in their lesson. During the session, students spotted the tiny flatworm and brought it back to me as they knew I had been looking at flatworms recently for another project.  When I tried to identify it, I couldn’t find anything on the internet so I decided to send him off to Hugh Jones, to be told that Hugh had only ever seen one or two like it before.”

Dr Hugh Jones from the University of Manchester is one of the UK’s leading experts on Flatworms. He said: “I have been fortunate that, over the years, many people have sent me records, photographs and specimens of land planarians and similar animals. Some of these have been of known species from areas with previous records so not entirely unexpected. Others were of known species but from areas without previous records, thus extending the known distribution.

“Just occasionally, I have got information about species that appear to have not previously been recorded from the British Isles. The problem then is to identify them as a known species from elsewhere in the world. This is not always simple as the descriptions are in widely scattered literature and many are only brief, vague or contain little detail. Some species prove to have never been recorded before from anywhere in the world!”

“The specimen sent to me by Elaine fell into the last category. As stated in the paper, I had been sent specimens and photographs of similar-looking worms before by others but had been unable to positively identify them to a known species because they were poorly preserved. The specimen from Newquay was sent to me alive so for the first time I was able to examine a living specimen, photograph it myself, take a short video and carefully preserve it. This was the breakthrough and it allowed us to compare it with other species and assign it to a genus, Marionfyfea.

“I am very grateful to Elaine and others, for their keen eye and taking the trouble to enquire further. What is does illustrate is the value of careful observation and inquisitiveness.”

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