Flatworms are one-cell thick but versatile and resilient

Fig 1. The flatworms (Notocomplana litoricola) found in rocky shoreline area of Stanley Park, BC. This type of flatworm lives underneath the rock. They are very thin to the point that you cannot pick it up easily from the rock surface or the barnacle bed (PC: Miji Lee)

Flatworms are so famous for their re-growing ability after a cut and for bearing the first brain-like nerve clump called ganglion among creatures. However, to study this fascinating details, scientists have to know their favorite living conditions in that these factors can affect the results of experiments. In fact, we can also use their information about their living conditions if we want to build a small aquarium for them at home.

Seawater is not all same in terms of its saltiness. In order to build your own aquarium, you would have to study how much salt they want in water because we want to make flatworms happy in a new environment. Saltiness can be thought of as the amount of salt in water. The advantage of being so thin is that flatworms can regulate water to move in and out of the body for a balance between the environment inside the body and the environment outside the body. If the amount of salt in water is too much or too small, the balance can be disrupted and flatworms can become sick.  

Once we found the amount of salt they need in water, can we just put unprocessed natural sea salt into water to make their favorite environment? What about water? We can have distilled water, which has almost nothing in it or just tap water. If these flatworms (Notocomplana litoricola) are okay with sea salt from grocery stores and tap water at your own place, and if they can be healthy in the broad range of the amount of salt in water, building a nice home for them would be so easy!

Figure 2. The flatworms in a tank with oxygen supply for the survival experiment for 9 days. Each tank has different type of water (distilled water or tap water) with the different type of salt (the unprocessed sea salt from grocery stores and the synthetic salt mix for aquariums) (PC: Miji Lee)

So I carried out my experiments on these flatworms for the effects of tap water, unprocessed sea salt, and the amount of salt. I set up these different conditions: distilled water/tap water with Instant Ocean (synthetic salt)/ unprocessed sea salt as well as the different amount of salt. Each treatment gives survival and death, being healthy (flat body) or not healthy (folded or wrinkled body), and time that takes for these flatworms to flip their body back.

Figure 3. Flatworms in distilled water with Instant Ocean (the synthetic salt mix) and in distilled water with sea salt (PC: Miji Lee)

Here are the results. The bad news is these flatworms will die in water that contains sea salt. Then, what do we do? You can just buy a synthetic salt mix from pet stores although this type of salt is a bit more expensive and not available at grocery stores. The good news is these flatworms are okay with the wide range of the amount of salt (24 ppt to 30 ppt; ppt is a unit for the amount of a substance melted in water) as well as tap water (at least if you are living in the greater Vancouver area in BC). The ability to keep their body intact in the different environments is amazing, considering such small, simple, and thin body. Now check out underneath rocks around the shoreline to look for these flatworms! If you are more interested in flatworms, learn more about flatworms from this website. http://shapeoflife.org/video/flatworms-first-hunter Also, make your own aquarium for flatworms from a plastic bottle by watching this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tnqo1m_Oxs


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