A study documented the discovery, authored by Dr. Somsak Panha, from the Animal Systematics Research Unit at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand has been published in the journal ZooKeys.
The worms, placed in the genus Glyphidrilus, are found between land and freshwater ecosystems, near swamps, rivers, streams, paddy systems and ponds. The genus features incredible biodiversity because of the monsoon climate, which radically changes river systems. Because the river systems are frequently in flux, it means that groups of the worms are often isolated, leading to isolated evolution and specilization amongst the worms in the region.
These new species lie vertically in wet soil near a water source, leaving their tails sticking out of the ground. Their tails twist to form u-shaped channels that lead water to the buried worm body. Science Daily suggests this may be an evolutionary adaptation that allows oxygen transport whle most of the worm is beneath the surface. The “wings” on the worms, the expanded layer of skin near the body tip of the worm remains a mystery to scientists, but some suggest it may aid breathing in its aquatic, burrowed environment. Others suggest it aids in copulation, as the wings are absent in sexually immature juvenile worms.
These new worms are also a vital part of rice farming, as their decomposition of organic matter creates natural fertilizer beneficial to rice fields. But the use of pesticides in the areas threatens these newly discovered species. “These worms will survive in areas using the chemical fertilizers but not those using chemical pesticides,” said Panha. “However, the worms did well in areas of organic farming and so are likely to be sensitive to modern agrochemical contamination of the environment. They may play an important role in organic rice farming.”