In the human world, matters of gender and sex are topical and have been debated for many years, but it seems in the world of worms, they simply do not care. One such mascot of this is a new species of worm discovered in California which has three sexes.
It is not uncommon for worms to be hermaphroditic, meaning they possess the genitalia of both males and females, and some are even able to switch between the male and female sex. Our readers can check out a previous article we have written if they wish to read up more on hermaphroditism in worms. That being said, a new species of nematode (marine roundworms, which are parasitic in nature) has been discovered in a saltwater lake in California. The lake in question is Mono lake, which has been deemed uninhabitable by organisms save for algae and bacteria due to its salt content being three times higher than that of the ocean. The only exceptions were thought to be a species of brine shrimp and divine flies, but this recent discovery has changed that.
Auanema sp. is the name of this new nematode. It is microscopic and is considered an extremophile, which is the label used to describe organisms which thrive in environments which are otherwise uninhabitable for other organisms. The nematode carries its young inside a pouch like a marsupial and is incredibly resilient, even more so than the other organisms that live in Mono lake. Not only can it survive 500 times the amount of arsenic (a toxic metal which has been linked to onsets of cancer, diabetes and other disease) it would take to kill a human, but they can also survive in laboratory conditions with virtually no natural environment, which showcases their incredible adaptability.
So, when it comes to the sex of the Auanema sp, they are considered a trisexual species, meaning they are male, female and hermaphroditic. They produce eggs, as well as sperm, and can self-fertilize. They are even naturally capable of gene-editing their offspring. If they choose to fertilize through sexual reproduction with another nematode, they can rearrange the genetic makeup of their offspring so that they produce more male or female-leaning offspring. In fact, sexual reproduction is usually the better option for a species that wishes to increase biodiversity, but at the same time, self-fertilization is an invaluable quality to possess if one wishes to ensure the survival of a species. Auanema sp could be dwindled down to one surviving organism, and it could simply self-fertilize and begin building the numbers of its species once again.
To conclude, the biology of the Auanema sp is incredible, just like so many hermaphroditic worms, but what sets it apart is its true hermaphroditism (or trisexuality) and adaptability to both harsh and neutral environments. As this is a newly discovered species, there is still much that is unknown, but that only excites us; imagine how much we could learn from a worm like this one!