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Online Information to Help Identify and Track $100 Billion Worm Pests

By Hank Becker
August 30, 1999

An online database of microscopic worms that cause $100 billion in damage worldwide is now available on the World Wide Web.

The USDA Nematode Collection, one of the world's largest and most valuable archives of these microscopic worms, contains information on thousands of species of nematodes that infect nearly every agronomic and horticultural plant important to agriculture.

In the United States alone, plant-parasitic nematodes cause annual economic losses estimated at nearly $10 billion from decreased food, fiber and ornamental production.

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service say their new searchable database will make it easier for scientists anywhere to identify and track these destructive pests. The search page can be found at:

The web site makes the USDA Nematode Collection more accessible to U.S. and foreign scientists and others ranging from quarantine officials to students doing science projects.

Established by retired ARS nematologist A. Morgan Golden in 1960, the collection is a valuable asset for furthering scientific knowledge of the tiny worms. It is maintained at the ARS Nematology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

The collection holds more than 34,000 permanent slides and vials and 19,500 species entries. Samples were gathered from 180 countries by some 3,000 collectors.

The records in the database represent 555 nematode genera and 1,670 species on 800 plant hosts. In addition, 180 insect hosts are represented by specimens in the collection.

Most nematodes feed on bacteria, fungi and other soil organisms. Others are parasitic, obtaining their food from animals (like the dog heartworm), humans (like the pinworm) or plants. The plant parasites cause yield losses by feeding or by transmitting disease- causing viruses, fungi and bacteria.

The website offers other resources including hot links to nematology societies and university collection sites.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific agency.

Scientific contacts: Zafar A. Handoo and Donna Ellington, ARS Nematology Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5660, fax (301) 504-6666, and