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Issue 472, 5 November 2001

Worm is named in tribute

Lancashire conservationists have begun a project to ensure the survival of a rare carnivorous worm, found only in one flooded gravel pit in the UK, and which was named after retired Leeds lecturer, Joe Jennings.

Dr Jennings joined the University as an undergraduate in 1949, gained a first-class honours in zoology and went on to become a senior lecturer, retiring in 1991. His teaching and training in research methods inspired many students, among them (Professor) Ray Gibson and (Dr) Johnstone Young, who discovered the worm Prostoma jenningsi sp. nov. in 1967 at a pond near Croston, and named it in tribute to their former teacher.

The worm is two centimetres long, reddish brown, with four to six black eyespots on the top of its head and, despite its size, a ferocious predator. It captures its prey by shooting out an internal proboscis half its own body length. Some of its relatives in marine waters grow over a hundred feet in length – the longest specimen at 150ft was found on the shore at St Andrews in 1874.

There is only one other known freshwater proboscis worm in Britain, and despite exhaustive searches of more than 200 other ponds in the Merseyside and Wirral areas, no other populations of the Jennings worm have been found.

As the only species endemic to Lancashire alone, the County Council have made the Jennings worm a flagship species in its biodiversity action plan, and the Wildlife Trust has begun conservation work to ensure the worm’s survival.

For more information, see the Lancashire biodiversity action plan website

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