Abstract

Given their ubiquitous nature, it is surprising that more oligochaete annelid worms (Annelida: Clitellata) have not adopted an endoparasitic lifestyle. Exceptions, however, are the understudied members of the genus Dero (Allodero) that parasitize the ureters of tree frogs and toads. This study experimentally explores the life cycle and host specificity of Allodero hylae, the worm's use of chemical cues in host searching, and its seasonal prevalence and abundance over a year-long collection period on the Florida Southern College campus. A total of 2,005 A. hylae was collected from the ureter, urinary bladder, or expressed urine of wild Osteopilus septentrionalis; a significant positive correlation was found between host snout–vent length and parasite intensity for female but not male hosts. Monthly prevalence of A. hylae reached a peak of 58% in April, but never dropped below 20% in any month; mean abundance peaked March–May, whereas few worms were recovered in December and January. Confirming a parasitic lifestyle, wild-collected hosts with intense infections, typically >40 worms, showed obvious dilatation of the ureter wall, and some young-of-the-year O. septentrionalis exposed to A. hylae in the laboratory were killed by the apparent rupture of the host's ureter. The worm has a direct life cycle: worms expelled in the host's urine are capable of locating and re-infecting other hosts within aquatic microhabitats such as bromeliad tanks, and worms can survive for weeks in a free-living environment, even undergoing a morphological change. Further, chemotaxis assays found a positive response to a tree frog attractant for worms recently removed from hosts. Overall, this study provides the first multifaceted investigation on the life history and ecology of any Allodero spp., which offers new insights into an understudied endoparasitic oligochaete.

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