Strange Microworm With No Penis Found in Spain
Only the most enduring species survive in the arid land south of Jaén, Spain. Scientists recently discovered one, the microworm who's most surprising feature isn't that they can thrive in this barren habitat -- it's that the males are lacking a penis.
According to a report from Science News and Information Service (SINC), the newly discovered microworms -- also known as nematodes and now named Myolaimus ibericus -- were found in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, a tough and arid environment with little to no water and few life exists. The area's lack of water is fatal to most species, but the nematodes can survive by consuming bacteria found in decomposing organic matter or waste-filled soil.
Myolaimus organisms are rare, according to a report from Live Science. Only 15 species -- most of them recorded a single time only -- are counted as members of the genus. You can see its picture here.
The creature measures between 0.5 and 0.8 millimeters. Unlike other nematodes that shed their cuticle -- their version of the skin -- the Myolaimus keeps it as a "second skin." It serves as a protection, especially from dehydration when the soil becomes too dry in the summer months.
Apparently, the existence of these microworms are valuable to the environment as well.
"These small animals serve as bioindicators of soil quality, as well as indicators of the presence of waste (especially faecal), of the existence of desertification processes and, ultimately, of climate change," Joaquín Abolafia, a scientist from the University of Jaén's department of Animal Biology, Vegetable Biology and Ecology, explained to SINC.
Perhaps the most notable feature of this tiny organism is its males' strange lack of a copulatory organ or penis. Other nematodes have "spicules" for copulation, but the Myolaimus males transfer their sperm by pumping it out of an opening in their body and into a sack on the female's vulva.
"From here, the sperm, which is large and has pseudopods (extensions), enters the female's genital tract and fertilises the ovules," Abolafia said. The study is published in the journal Zootaxa.