When it comes to decimating one unwanted species, sometimes it becomes necessary to bring in another species to do the job. This is sometimes the approach that researchers take when eradicating an invasive species…..or a bunch of cockroaches. Researchers have recently discovered a new type of substance that can kill cockroaches swiftly, which is easier said than done. This substance is not easy to find, however, as it is secreted by a type of sea-worm known as a bootlace worm. The bootlace worm holds the record for being the world’s longest animal, and could be effectively used to exterminate unwanted cockroach species.


The bootlace worm can reach an amazing fifty five meters, which is larger than two olympic-sized swimming pools. Bootlace worms appear slimy due to a type of mucus that they secrete. This gooey secretion contains the toxic compounds, which are now being called “nemertides”. So far these toxic nemertides have been found in sixteen different bootleg species.


The nemertides attack tiny channels in cell walls that inhibit the flow of sodium in and out of a cell. Interrupting such an essential cellular process kills an organism. Tests have shown that nemertides have killed young cockroaches and invasive crabs. Once one single nemertide is injected into a roach or crab, the arthropod becomes paralyzed and quickly dies. So far the toxic compounds have effectively killed German cockroaches.


Sea-worms are obscure creatures that the public does not know much about. According to Bryan Grieg Fry at the University of Queensland in Australia, it is nice to see a bootlace worm getting attention for doing something good. In this case, that good deed would be killing cockroaches. The venom used by sea-worms is, in Grieg’s opinion, not well-studied and potentially beneficial. Bootlace worms, unlike earthworms, are notable for not having any body segments.


Do you think that the bootlace worm produces these toxic compounds for defensive purposes?


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