Monday 18 January 2016

Fig-Dwelling Worm Is a Mighty Mouth-Morpher

by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | January 15, 2016 02:02pm ET

On La Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, microscopic worms that inhabit wild figs can develop five different mouths.

No, not all at the same time. But depending on the worm's exposure to different environmental conditions and the availability of different food sources, it can grow a specialized maw that's best suited to its living situation. The structure of these mouths varies so widely that the scientists who found the worm, Pristionchus borbonicus, initially thought that worms with different mouths were actually different species.

And P. borbonicus wasn't the only worm they turned up that boasted a mouth-morphing superpower. The scientists discovered two more species in the Pristionchus genus — Pristionchus sycomori andPristionchus racemosae — that were also capable of developing five different mouth shapes.All of the worms were found in figs that grow in Vietnam, South Africa and La Réunion Island; and each of the mouthy worm species parasitizes a separate wasp species that pollinates the figs.

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