Located in the Eastern Sierra region of California, Mono Lake is such a godforsaken place that only two species of animal life call it home. Other than bacteria and algae, only brine shrimp and diving flies had been found in its super-saline waters, which are three times as salty as the ocean, and have an alkaline pH of 10. In 2019, however, scientists identified a hardy species of nematode surviving just fine in the inhospitable lake. This new species is a weird worm that has three distinct sexes -- male, female and hermaphrodite -- and can withstand arsenic levels in the lake that are 500 times higher than the level that humans can tolerate.
A worm that arsenic can't kill:
- The new species of nematode, which is temporarily being called Auanema sp., has both eggs and sperm and can produce hundreds of offspring through self-fertilization. It gives birth to live larvae after hatching them in a pouch.
- Mono Lake is an 8-mile by 13-mile (13-km by 21-km) lake that water flows into, but never out of, which has created one of Earth’s harshest environments. Migratory birds do stop over to feed on the shrimp, but not much life exists there.
- Water can escape Mono Lake only if it evaporates or if it seeps into the ground. Closed lakes such as this are affected by changes in climate, and are therefore a great source of information for scientists studying climate change.