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      girraween > animals > slugs, snails and worms

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Gordian Worm, Horsehair Worm

Conservation status: Least Concern

Adults are long (up to 100 cm), thin worms that live in fresh water. They have a distinctively stiff, but sinuous way of swimming. Some worms are rough-skinned and coloured dark brown, while others, like this one found in Girraween, are smooth-skinned and golden in colour.

Scientific Classification
Adult worms can live for several months, which is surprising as they don't eat. Their entire existence is to find a mate. Even though they only have simple sensory sytems, male worms are able to find females quite a distance away. Once they do find a mate, the worms wind around each other, forming complicated tangled knots. Sometimes a knot may consist of many worms. After mating, the males die. Females live long enough to lay gelatinous strings of eggs in the water, which often stick to vegetation.

About a week later, the eggs hatch and the larvae, through a complicated procedure, can eventually infect an insect host that either drinks or eats them. Crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers and mantids are usual hosts. Once ingested, the larvae burrows from the insect's gut into its blood system. There, the larve grows, feeding through its skin on the nutrients from the insect's blood. The larvae goes through several moults until it is mature and then it somehow makes its insect host go to water. The mature worm breaks through the insect's body - usually killing it in the process - and swims away to begin the cycle over again.

These worms used to be often found in horse water troughs and were believed to have formed from horse hair - thus their common name of Horsehair Worm.

Their other common name comes from the fact that Nematomorpha often seemingly tie themselves into complicated knots. This relates to the Ancient Greek myth of the Gordian Knot. According to the myth, the land of Phrygia was without a leader. An oracle decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordius was that lucky man. Out of gratitude to the gods, King Gordius tied his ox-cart to a post in the temple of Zeus with a knot so cunning it could not be untied. The oracles predicted that whoever untied the cart would become ruler of Asia Minor. Many people tried to untie this knot and failed. A man named Alexander also tried to untie the knot and, like all the others before him he, too, failed. The problem was he could not find any free ends to work with, so Alexander took out his sword and simply cut the knot, creating the required ends. From there, he could untie the knot and free the cart. Alexander went on to become Alexander the Great.


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Last updated: 25th April 2016