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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Text Only - Know Your Nematodes

Know Your Nematodes

If you and your relatives can make yourselves at home almost anywhere on the planet—in water, in the dirt, inside plants, inside sea ice, inside animals, and even inside people—there's a very good chance you are a nematode.

A nematode is a type of worm that is also called a roundworm. Just like in many families with a lot of relatives, they can be very different from each other. For instance, some species are so tiny they can only be seen with a microscope, but others "family members" can be 26 feet long.

Some nematodes are good guys. They live in soil and attack insect pests that damage plants. Other nematodes living in the soil eat bacteria, a process that releases nitrogen into the soil. Later on, that nitrogen can be used by crops to help them grow.

Other nematodes are not so good. Some are parasites that live inside plant roots and interfere with the plant's ability to grow and stay healthy. Others are parasites that live inside livestock and make them sick. Some parasites that live inside humans are also nematodes.

Since these remarkable roundworms can have a big impact on healthy crops and healthy livestock, scientists around the world want to keep an eye on them. So Andrea Skantar, a scientist at the Agricultural Research Service, helped write a guide called "Introduction to Nematodes." It has all kinds of information that farmers, students, and anyone else can use to learn more about these worms living all around us.

After all, it's good to know your neighbors, even if you can't see a lot of them!

By Ann Perry, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 8/29/2012
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