New Worm Has Five Faces and Rides on the Backs of Wasps

This creature is definitely going to be part of the plot of my next horror movie. Researchers on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean (Why does that name sound familiar? Stay tuned.) have discovered a new species of roundworm that has five distinct faces and gets around by riding on the backs of fig wasps.

The Pristionchus borbonicus was identified recently by scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology, who at first were celebrating what they thought was the discovery of five different kinds of worms. After checking the genomes, they determined that all five faces belonged to one worm with five mouth variations that are dependent on what it’s eating inside the fig.

Two more faces of the Pristionchus borbonicus

Two of the five faces of the Pristionchus borbonicus

The different mouth shapes are built for eating bacteria and yeasts and for cannibalizing other roundworms – I told you this worm belongs in a horror movie. One mouth is narrow and has two teeth for consuming bacteria while the other is wide with one tooth for terrorizing other roundworms.

It gets better. The Pristionchus borbonicus travels from fig to fig on the backs of fig wasps as they pollinate fig blossoms. What’s more, the researchers believe it’s the fig’s complex self-contained ecosystem that allowed the evolution of these five distinct versions of roundworm in one tiny fruit.

Fig wasp (sans hitchhiking worm) on a fig

Fig wasp (sans hitchhiking worm) on a fig

Now, why does Reunion Island sound familiar? It’s the place where a piece of a Boeing 777 wing was found that was determined to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014. it’s also the island where UFOs and the so-called Michelin Man aliens were seen in 1968 and 1975.

A five-faced, wasp-riding worm is discovered on a remote island known for alien sightings and a piece of a missing aircraft whose disappearance has not been solved in nearly two years. Excuse me while I work on a movie title. The Five-Faced Cannibal Worms of UFO Island? Attack of the Five-Faced Wasp-Riding Fig Feeders? The Fifth Face is the Worst Face?

Quick! Throw it a fig!

Quick! Throw it a fig!