Find a roundworm on a manatee? You're just scratching the surface.

Invisible worms are everywhere. Nematodes are roundworms that are mostly microscopic and have adapted to a spectacular range of homes, from Antarctic soil to the inside of your gut.

They are present in so many micro-environments that Nathan Cobb, a nematologist in the early 20th century, once predicted that ''if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were sept away, our world would still be recognizable.''

A new study presents the native Florida manatee and its skin as the latest evidence of this wormy universe.

The study reports that three nematode species were found in skin samples from Florida manatees. The skin of an average adult manatee could potentially carry over half a million nematodes.

Manatee skin is a perfectly reasonable home for nematodes.

''It's like elephant skin,'' said Cathy Beck, a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study. 

''There's lots of little nooks and crannies and pores, and they have very small fine hairs about an inch apart, so there's lots of little places for minute organisms to live, to attach, and for algae to grow. [Ellie Shechet]


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