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Desert Diary


Yuck! A worm! Oh, sorry, but you're going to have to be more specific as to what you're yucking about. "Worm" refers to a whole bunch of animals no more closely related than we are to shellfish or corals. Basically, anything that doesn't have a backbone and is long and slender is, in everyday parlance, a worm. But shape isn't all that meaningful, and a number of very distant relatives are called worms—like earthworms, horsehair worms, flatworms, and roundworms.

One of the most common of these are the roundworms, or nematodes. They occur throughout our desert—in fact, throughout the world! One study reported 90,000 roundworms in a single rotten apple, and another some 236 species in just a few cubic inches of sediment. Having trouble raising tomatoes where they did fine last year? Nematodes are the suspects. Child come home with pinworms? Nematodes. But be glad you live in a desert—in the tropics, you might have to worry about more deadly roundworms, like those causing elephantiasis and river blindness. Still think all worms are alike?
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Web Resources


Plant and insect parasitic nematodes

University of Nebraska-Lincoln