Commensalism is the association of two organisms, one of which derives benefit while the other is unaffected. These relationships are common in nature and in unexpected environments. A good example of commensalism is the survival of nematodes in the intestine of millipedes. The diversity of life capable of living in such an environment is remarkable, sometimes with as many as eight species of nematodes living in the same region of the intestine. The primary goal of this work is to inspire students to gain the requisite skills to discover new life in host organisms that are readily available, accessible, and, in most cases, inexpensive or free. We have created a laboratory protocol to study the diversity of nematode life living inside the millipede intestine. This exercise is designed to teach students to test hypotheses, use taxonomic keys, dissect a millipede, recover nematodes, record data, and formulate a written conclusion. There is a high likelihood that students will discover new species of nematodes during this exercise. The suggested experimental design will catalyze students to investigate the potential of discovering new life in a backyard organism, and simultaneously ignite curiosity and promote a hands-on approach to the application of the scientific method.
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Vol. 81 • No. 4