Nile River Worms

Nile River

Some time ago a reader wrote to us inquiring about a Nile River worm. The worms in the Nile River stay in there; that is, the worms do not leave the Nile River to come ashore, but live entirely in the water. The reader didn’t have any personal connection with the Nile River worms – they are merely something she had heard of, but now she is unable to track down any information about them. What worms in the Nile River never leave the water?

Unfortunately, this is an extremely difficult question to answer, as we are given no information about the worm other than that it is found in the Nile River (and presumably elsewhere) and that it lives in the water. About the only thing we can say with any degree of certainty is that the reader appears to be after some sort of aquatic worm, as aquatic worms live in water (as their name makes clear). However, this supplies the reader with essentially no information, as she is already aware the worm lives in water. This is, indeed, all she knows about it.


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One type of worms that came to mind initially is the Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri, which belongs to the subclass Oligochaeta, which itself belongs to the Annelid phylum (home of the various species of earthworms, among many other types of worm). The Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri is merely one of thousands of species of aquatic or semi-aquatic oligochaetes. The Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri in particular comes to mind because it is a common aquatic worm found in various parts of the world, including every continent but Antarctica. This of course means that they are found in Africa. However, according to a map depicting the habitats of the Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri, they are not found in the region of Africa where the Nile River is located. Thus, the Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri is evidently not a Nile River worm. So, the reader isn’t looking for information about the Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri, unless the reader is mistaken about the habitat of the worm in question.

The only other possibility we can come up with is that our reader is referring to one of the several species of trematodes that cause Schistosomiasis, the most destructive parasitic disease in the world save malaria. Tramatodes are flatworms, which means they belong to the phylum Platyhelminthes. The tramatodes that cause Schistosomiasis belong to the genus Schistosoma in particular and are often called blood-flukes. They are prevalent in several regions of the world and do live in the Nile River. The parasites will infect snails, which they use as an intermediate host, and in turn the parasites will infect humans by directly penetrating their skin.

To conclude, we are unsure what Nile River worm our reader is looking for. We put forward a couple of possibilities, but one doesn’t live in the Nile River and the other is a very small parasitic worm that is almost exclusively known as the cause of Schistosomiasis. The fact that the members of the genus Schistosoma live in water is certainly not their most notable feature, and thus it would be unusual to dwell on their aquatic nature as their defining characteristic. If any of our readers happen to be Nile River experts and have some idea of what our reader is looking for, please leave us a comment.

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Photo credit for thumbnail image: Luestling / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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