An inordinate fondness for nematodes

by Matthew Cobb

I have no idea if this true, or how you could be confident it was (or wasn’t) correct, but it could easily be right. Jack is Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London.

26 Comments

  1. stuartcoyle
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Four out of every five! I never knew there were so many worms. Some humans think that god made the place for us! It’s obvious that the FSM greatly prefers spaghetti shaped creatures.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      The success of worms makes you think why we got stuck with all these unnecessary appendages.

  2. Claudia Baker
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Upon investigation, it appears that these worms are EVERYWHERE! Ew.

  3. John H. McDonald
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    There’s a wonderful passage by Nathan Cobb (any relation?):

    “In short, if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites.”

    Cobb, N.A. 1915. Nematodes and their relationships. Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, pp. 457-490.

    • Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      No relation that I know of, but a great quote! – MC

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      A great quote indeed. I always referred to it in my classes when introducing nematodes.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      I had heard of that quote, and was about to look for it. Ya beat me to it.

    • Jean Hess
      Posted October 22, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      Creepy and Halloween-y!

  4. Wunold
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea if this true, or how you could be confident it was (or wasn’t) correct, but it could easily be right.

    At least, Wikipedia agrees with him:

    “They represent 90% of all animals on the ocean floor. Their numerical dominance, often exceeding a million individuals per square meter and accounting for about 80% of all individual animals on earth”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nematode

    • somer
      Posted October 22, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Ick!

      • steve
        Posted October 23, 2016 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        No; that’s a protozoan.🙂

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    It is quite a claim. For animals there would be others to consider: rotifers and mites come to mind. But nematodes may indeed be be the most abundant of animals.

  6. Joe Dickinson
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I once pointed out to a group that had set up a canopy over a table where they were protesting use of animals in research on our campus that pulling the tent stakes out of the ground would probably kill more animals (nematodes) than were used for research in a year. They did not take my point.

  7. Pliny the in Between
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I had seen that somewhat icky claim – which triggered this panel from the earliest days of learning to draw a web comic.

    http://pictoraltheology.blogspot.com/2013/05/fine-print.html#comment-form

  8. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 22, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    … and many of them are very nasty parasites.

    Which just shows what an ingeniously loathsome sadist the Creator was.
    😦

    cr

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 23, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      Hmmm, not sure about “nematodes” as a phylum being particularly replete with “parasites” compared to other animal phyla (think about it – if the 4-of-5 figure is correct, then you’d have to have nematodes as parasites of nematodes ; which is not impossible), but for sure there are plenty of parasites out there.
      I recall in the mid-90s, when I decided to make some sort of effort of getting up-to-the decade with biology, that about the time I got to the nematodes in Lynn Margulis’ compendium, the list of phyla had had a couple of consolidations in the “plants”, several splittings in the bacteria and/ or archaea, and one phylum of vermiform animals identified as extremely-degenerate higher animals consequent on their lifestyle as kidney parasites of cephalopods.
      At which point, I gave up on trying to even keep up with a count of phyla, let alone their actual characteristics.
      Shame, because that book was effective at clubbing me to sleep for well over a year. 2-4 pages per “phylum”, but it still would knock you senseless if put into a large enough sock and swung horizontally.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 23, 2016 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        I’d be willing to bet there are nematode parasites of nematodes. But in fact it’s not essential numerically, all that is necessary is that many nematodes are parasitic on the one larger host.

        I have no idea if this state of affairs exists but I wouldn’t be surprised.

        cr

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted October 23, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          I’d be willing to bet there are nematode parasites of nematodes.

          Big worms have little worms upon their backs to bite ’em…

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

            And little worms have lesser worms…

            • Wunold
              Posted October 24, 2016 at 12:16 am | Permalink

              Worms all the way down.

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 24, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink

                Well, that too.🙂

                And just in case you or any others are unfamiliar with Haggis’s original reference, do see this:

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Siphonaptera

              • Wunold
                Posted October 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                I supposed that you would like it.🙂

                And I didn’t know the original rhyme, thanks!

    • Posted October 23, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      In Taxil’s Amusing Bible, Adam tells how he named all species, what fun was it to watch marine fish painfully swimming up the river to reach him and be named… and at one moment, a worm crawled out of his behind, stood in front of him to get a name, then crawled back inside. Adam hadn’t even known that he was inhabited.

      (By the way, Eve wasn’t yet named at this moment.)

  9. dallos
    Posted October 23, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I should update my view of reincarnation.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 23, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Ha! See Pliny at #7 above!

    • Posted October 23, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t want to be reincarnated as a nematode: no free will even at cellular level!


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