What is that “alien” inside the spider?

Mermithidae is a family of nematode worms that are endoparasites in arthropods. As early as 1877, Mermithidae was listed as one of nine subdivisions of the Nematoidea. Mermithidae are confusable with the horsehair worms of the phylum Nematomorpha that have a similar life history and appearance.

Mermithids are parasites, mainly of arthropods. Most are known from insects, but some are recorded from spiders, scorpions and crustaceans. A few are known to parasitize earthworms, leeches and molluscs, and a specimen is known from a spider preserved in forty-million-year-old Baltic amber.

Mermithids are wire-like and have a smooth cuticle with layers of spiral fibres. The digestive tract is similar to that of free-living nematodes only in the young larvae prior to their parasitic life; in the parasitic stages the oesophagus is disconnected from the mid-intestine, and females lack an anus. The female genital opening is at the midbody, while the male opening is at the tip and visible as one or two spicules. The eggs are laid either in water or on land, and the newly hatched larvae are free-living, as are the adults that emerge from the hosts to lay eggs.



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