Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.
What are Nematodes?
With over 25,000 named species, my guess is you've at least come across a nematode once or twice in your life. These guys are commonly known as roundworms. Some are free-living animals, but many of them are parasitic, meaning that they live off of other organisms.
Nematodes inhabit all different types of environments, too. Some live in the soil, performing the important function of decomposing dead and decaying material. Others live in freshwater and marine environments. And, as we already discussed, some live within other organisms.
Nematode Body Plans
Although there is great diversity among nematodes, their body plans are actually quite similar. Some exist as very small organisms (only a millimeter or two), while others may be more than 7 meters long! But in general they have some things in common. For example, their body symmetry. Nematodes have what is called bilateral symmetry ('bi' means 'two'). This means that their bodies can be divided into two halves that are mirror images of each other.
This is very much like you and me. If you take a good look at your own body, you will notice that your right and left sides are mirror images of each other as well, and we see this same symmetry in the nematode worms.
This might be hard to imagine in a roundworm, though, because there are no arms, legs, or any other external structures like this to cue you in to the two identical halves. But if you were to cut that nematode right down the middle, you would certainly find that each inside half was identical to the other. For example, there are four nerve cords that run longitudinally down the length of nematodes. One on the back, one on the belly, and one on each side. Cut the worm in half and you'd see these nerve cords mirrored on each side.
What's interesting about nematodes, though, is that their heads are not bilaterally symmetrical like ours. Instead, the head is radially symmetrical, meaning that it is the same on all sides. Think of the spokes of a wheel radiating from the center, or slices of a whole pizza to understand how this symmetry works. Inside this head are various structures, including the pharynx, or throat, at the back of the mouth, sensory organs, and even up to six sets of lips!
Nematodes, commonly referred to as roundworms, are both abundant and interesting animals. Inhabiting just about everywhere on Earth (including the bodies of other organisms!), these guys have got it made.
There's more than meets the eye with nematodes too, because despite their simple outward appearance they actually have bilateral symmetry. This means that they have two sides that are identical to each other, just like we do. But instead of having a head that is also bilaterally symmetric, theirs is radially symmetric. Here we find that instead of two identical halves, each is the same as it radiates outward from a central point.
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