The lowly worm, Capitella teleta. It doesn’t look like much, but it plays an extremely important ecological role, especially in polluted marine environments. Many worms act as natural filters that help clean up water as they feed. Interestingly, worms are born as genetic males or females, but as they grow the females remain the same and some of the males may turn into simultaneous hermaphrodites — having both male and female functions. Whether they do or not depends on environmental conditions (e.g., if there is a lot of food) and how many females are already in the population (if female density is low, more males turn into hermaphrodites). I think one could say that this kind of biology challenges hegemonic notions of sex and gender.
Dr Valerie Forbes
Dean of the College of Biological Sciences
University of Minnesota