I Was Right

A Precis on the Newly Articulated Piloting Behavior of the Nematode Genus Mermis

On the Need for Tolerance in Science
It is my lasting belief that there is, among scientists, a desire not simply to agree, but to agree on the right answers to natural questions. The DESIRE to arrive at a satisfactory answer is a de facto cornerstone of the culture of science. Meanwhile, the PRACTICE of discovery often demands patience not found in the academic paper factories often purported to be doing comprehensive and systematic research. Accredited Universities dependent on fast funding require consistent answers to be delivered in rhythm with grant writing cycles, creating a barrier of noise through which the observations and conclusions of independent researchers cannot often be heard.

The fault of intolerance among modern scientists is not due to a desire to exclude unsanctioned results from the canon of peer-reviewed literature. Indeed, it is the rigor with which scientists are educated which produces at once a valuable work ethic and a healthy skepticism of collegial findings. The temptation to close the book on difficult problems, however, both encourages a provincial bias towards one’s own work AND creates the lazy habits of mind which allow one to extend one’s own findings in an attempt to explain understudied phenonema. Dr. Robert Casper’s dismissal of nematode piloting is just one such example, and the subject of this pamphlet.

The Impact of Lazy Habits of Mind
Prior to Casper’s brief (and insufficient!) description of piloting behavior in the Journal of Nematology (v.12: n.1), my own catalogue of observations of a new species of Mermis exhibiting this behavior was improperly reviewed by several major universities and dismissed as fiction. My offer to collaborate with degreed nematologists to submit a holotype for description of this new species was rejected.

The nematodes in question have been called ‘cryptids’ by my less generous colleagues. It should be noted, however, that this label is used (and should be reserved for) the subjects of cryptozoologists and afficionados of the fantastical, and not for serious (even if not fully credentialed) scientists like this author. Suggestions that I might find a broader audience by targeting “more media-friendly megafauna like the Yeti” only serve to emphasize the unfortunate truth that in academic circles, evidence is often evaluated not on its strengths or falsifiability, but on the ad hominem opinions of tired researchers.

CONSIDER: It might enlighten the reader to note that such animals as the giant squid, the platypus, and the Komodo dragon are among those ordinary creatures once thought to be hoaxes by “reputable” scientists. But the subject of THESE studies (a precis of which you hold in your hand) is not a folkloric beast or 18th-Century chimera! No, Dear Reader, it is an undescribed species of a known genus in the family Mermithidae, the unique behavior of which has already been noted by experts in the field, and expertly misinterpreted by the same.

The Cost of Unobservancy – Can You Afford It?
Dr. Casper and others have observed piloting behavior during their field observations of Mermis nigrescens, an entomopathogenic nematode
Fig. 1. from field notes of Dr. Casper, 2005
which spends a portion of its life inside its living host. The method of (a) cuticular penetration, (b) maturation into juvenile stage, and (c) subsequent exit via rupture of intersegmental membranes is so overstudied in Mermis spp. that it has come to be called the “mermithid method”. To a novitiate graduate student, finding a mermithid riding the back of an insect might inspire one to construct a history of the juvenile nematode, in which the animal has recently exited the body of the insect,
Fig. 2. from field notes of Waltz and Astor, 2006
and is preparing for the next stage in its life cycle. LAYMAN’S MISTAKE! It is curious that Dr. Casper has been unable to describe the next stage, and has conveniently attributed his inability to do so to the “interruption or obstruction that inevitably takes place during night-time observation of delicate creatures.” Unable to derive a purpose for this behavior in the lab or field,
Fig. 3. Waltz & Astor, 2005
he has written off piloting as an anomaly “worthy of further study,” but not in conflict with his own findings. My own studies, you will soon see, demonstrate otherwise!

You Will Now Learn How to Perceive a Nematode
A nematode, for the benefit of the reader, is a worm in the phylum Nemata, which contains over 20,000 described species, the vast majority of which are not well understood. They are the most numerous multicellular animal on Earth, typically measured in millimeters. A nematode might be comprised of 1000 cells, with 100 or so devoted to reproduction.

Sexual Organs – THEY MATTER!
Had Dr. Casper submitted a single specimen of observed nematode pilots to microscopic inspection, he would have noticed something strange. The genitalia are ALWAYS found on the lower 1/3 of the body, which should tell him (according to the UNL Nematode Lab’s Diagnostic Key to Plant Parasitic, Freeliving, and Predaceous Nematodes) that the genus is Tylenchus, not Mermis. BUT WRONG! It is in fact Mermis, but with a trait typical of Tylenchus, and omission of this fact (as well as the absence of this mistake in Dr. Casper’s findings) demonstrates the uniqueness of my discovery.

Upon dissection, Dr. Casper would have found an overdeveloped orijector, the muscular structure that expels eggs through the genitalia. Additionally, oöcyte production can be seen (without dissection) to be generating larvated eggs, whereas Mermis spp. are generally viviparous, giving “live birth”.

Astonishing Assumptions!
The very imagination for which I had been previously criticized produced several scenarios in which these 3 traits (1. posterior genitalia, 2. overdeveloped orijector, 3. atypical egg production) of nematode pilots could provide a significant evolutionary (reproductive) advantage. My strongest hypothesis (and ironically the stated rationale for the rejection of my previous papers), was that this pilot species ejected its eggs at high speed as a dispersal mechanism. My colleagues rightly point out that this astonishing statement creates more questions than answers. I WILL NOW PROVIDE THE ANSWERS.

Catching High-Speed Nematode Eggs
Internal pressure in nematodes is already
Fig. 4. apical placement of super-orijector
high because the cuticle cannot expand, so flexing easily elevates the pressure which, in conjunction with the release of the super-orijector, produces a cannonball effect. And while “shooting” eggs from a pressurized midbody could be achieved with the “tail-wagging” commonly observed in pilots, the genitalia in this species are not just in the lower 1/3, but positively at the posterior apex, allowing this amazing animal to take aim in any direction!

Fig. 5. Author’s glass plate collection apparatus
Because the mermithid method doesn’t involve egg-laying, and the lifecycle stage I’m proposing in pilots is inherently mobile (pilots are only found on walking insects), the evidence contradicting traditional views could only be found by days of follow-up observation and larva collection along the entire traveled path of the nematode pilot and livery insect. Did Dr. Casper do this? ASK HIM YOURSELF. To test my egg-shooting hypothesis, I built an apparatus which allows the livery insect to walk on a conveyor belt, triggering the pilot to begin orijection.
Fig. 6. egg patterns
Collection plates were then placed within 1 inch of the piloted insect. Eggs were found in a widely scattered pattern on both sides, allowing calculation of speed and trajectory.

Why Shoot Your Eggs?
The Mermis eggs collected in my trials were slightly desiccated, an odd fact given that nematodes are essentially aquatic, living in the interstitial space between soil particles or other substrata. Egg dehydration observed in other species has been attributed without justification to abnormal oögenetic salinity or other speculative diseases, but a good scientist does not find fault with what he doesn’t understand. Nematodes are at the mercy of forces like humidity, surface tension, water percolation, and viscosity of the liquid they inhabit. Viscosity is a property not limited to water, however. Air viscosity studies performed by Stokes provide a clue to the purpose of egg dehydration.

UNDERSTAND: The rate of descent of a drop of water in still air diminishes at 10x the rate of the diminishing size of the droplet. I.e.,

Size Rate of Descent
25μm 1.5 inch/sec
2.5μm 1 inch/min
.25μm 1 inch/2 hrs

A desiccated Mermis egg is approx. 2μm in diameter, which puts the rate of descent at 60 SECONDS for each inch it falls.
Fig. 7. Nematode piloting weevil
Based on egg patterns on my glass slides, and assuming a parabolic trajectory, I calculate the average vertex of the egg path at 2 INCHES, which gives the egg 120 SECONDS TO HIT THE GROUND! An Eternity! Egg velocity is likely canceled by air viscosity immediately, so the range can be fairly estimated by assuming the velocity of the surrounding air. With even a 1mph air current, the egg could travel 173 FEET! Imagine the possibilities with strong winds! Updraghts! Do YOU know a better reason to shoot your desiccated eggs??

The City Scientist Fails to See the Value of a Cab!
One final failure of my colleagues must now be brought to light, in the form of an explanation for the nighttime piloting habits of this
Fig. 8. Nematode piloting Chrysomelid
new and exciting species of Mermis. In all previous papers describing desiccation of larvated eggs, not one described any humane attempt to revive the same by rehydration. Let me be the first to inform the science-interested public and my highly trained colleagues: it works! A thorough study will demonstrate a nearly 100% successful rate of rehydration upon contact with water, which should provide a clue to the nocturnal nature of this new species (and the reason others have only observed piloting behavior at night).

LESSON 1: Water evaporates more slowly in the absence
Fig. 9. Nematode piloting Probe Beetle
of sunlight, and wet conditions encourage sporulation of entomopathogenic fungi like the horrific Cordyceps. These spores attach to the insect’s cuticle and grow as hyphae, often to penetrate and parasitize the insect.

LESSON 2: Mermis is a fungivore, and a light study of the alimentary canal of the species in question reveals that it is packed, mouth to anus, with whole spores.

LESSON 3: Nocturnal observations of piloting fields, where literally thousands of livery insects can be observed on a humid evening, will reward even the casual naturalist with the sight of “kneeling” insects which pause long enough for pilots to board
Fig. 10. Nematode piloting Halictid
(possibly triggered by the detection of predatory fungi in the soil). The nematodes quickly devour the bulk of the conidia (spores) already present, then take their position atop their host, who has benefited greatly from this arrangement. (I do not know the behavioral trigger for orijection, but allow me to speculate: Upon receiving a good proteinacious meal, a fungivore’s biological response may be oöcyte production. As none of my esteemed colleagues has taken up this course of inquiry, I shall be happy to supply guidance if requested!) The insect marches, egg-shooting commences, and the tiny dry eggs find a moist new habitat at some distance. THE POWER OF OBSERVATION – the science of biology depends on it! Did Dr. Casper not recognize a cab ride because the passenger and driver were so small?

Revelation and Plea for Tolerance
At the time my paper is accepted for publication, the scientific community will find I have named this newly described species Mermis cordicitus. Until such time as my field notes, observations, and data are available for peer review, may I suggest that nematologists interested in a startling and exciting area of study review their own findings with regard to egg desiccation and piloting behavior, and reconsider the inhospitable and punitive criticism shown to important research conducted outside the manacles of institutional scientific research.

And Dear Reader, will you put aside your preconceptions RIGHT NOW and ACCEPT THE TRUTHS uncovered by a properly executed series of observations conducted in accordance with the Scientific Method? WILL YOU?


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The Mermithid Truth