Peter Ducey, Biological Sciences Department, coauthored a manuscript over the summer titled “Confirmation and Distribution of Tetrodotoxin for the First Time in Terrestrial Invertebrates: Two Terrestrial Flatworm Species (Bipalium adventitium and Bipalium kewense),” which appeared in the journal PLoS ONE. The eight-author team included scientists from the University of California Bakersfield, Utah State University, University of Notre Dame, University of Virginia, and SUNY Cortland. Popular articles about the work have been posted by numerous science news outlets including Science News, Science Daily, Nautilus and Mysterious Universe.
Led by Amber Stokes of UC Bakersfield, the research team found that two species of terrestrial flatworms living throughout the U.S. have within their tissues a potent neurotoxin that may be used to either defend them from potential predators or to subdue their own prey (earthworms). Because this is the same toxin that occurs in pufferfish and certain salamanders, interesting questions about its biochemistry and evolution have been raised. Ducey and his students at SUNY Cortland have been studying the ecology, behavior and evolution of these flatworms since the mid-1990s. Although the flatworms are not native to the U.S., they are now quite abundant in many parts of the country, including Central New York, and are formidable predators on earthworms. Because of the tetrodotoxin, Ducey advises against eating these flatworms if found locally.