Understanding parasitic worms

Parasitologists at the Museum have been studying helminths, or parasitic worms, for well over 100 years – and yielding fascinating results.

The Parasitic Worms section at the Natural History Museum curates, describes and studies parasitic helminths. These include Platyhelminthes, Nematoda, Nematomorpha and Acanthocephala.

Helminths go to great lengths to achieve often highly complex life histories, including adapting their bodies to hostile environments and switching between ecosystems to find suitable hosts. They are ubiquitous and few ecosystems are uninfected or unaffected.

It takes time and effort to learn about their biodiversity. They have a plethora of hosts, a multitude of developmental stages that often bear little resemblance from one stage to another, and most forms remain hidden in other animal guts and tissues.

Recent collaborations involving Museum staff
  • Keys To The Trematoda, a multi-author seminal set of volumes of classical taxonomy.
  • A study combining morphological and molecular data, which revealed a new order of tapeworms, called the Rhinobothriidea.
  • A new tapeworm project, funded through a $3 million National Science Foundation grant and involving 22 experts from 13 countries. This is expected to identify around 1,600 new tapeworm species and lead to an unprecedented global understanding of tapeworms and their hosts.
  • Working with the University of Melbourne, to investigate the use of mitochondrial DNA to help in the study of epidemiology, larval identification and molecular ecology.