Abstract

Free pre-tetrathyridia of Mesocestoides sp. are described, for the first time, from samples obtained from the coelomic cavity of a ground skink, Scincella lateralis, from Oklahoma. Closer examination of these early-stage tapeworms revealed they were transitional metamorphosis stages between a post-hexacanth procercoid form to the full metacestode of Mesocestoides. A series of transitional stages was found that span the full period of sucker and apical organ development. However, we did not see any fully developed tetrathyridia, i.e., having classic Mesocestoides morphology but with the apical sucker absent following developmental atrophy. This is the first time that metamorphic pre-tetrathyridial stages of a Mesocestoides sp. have been reported in vivo from a natural infection. These observations corroborate earlier reports of such stages of Mesocestoides vogae developed in vitro, though the previously reported isolate of M. vogae is asexually proliferative, and the species from the present study showed no sign of asexual proliferation. The fact that these immediately post-hexacanth stages can occur in a single lizard intermediate host may suggest that Mesocestoides spp. might develop through a simple 2-host life cycle rather than an obligate 3-host cycle that has been speculated to occur by most previous authors. DNA sequence comparisons and phylogenetic analyses based on mitochondrial 12S, cox1, and nad1 genes have demonstrated that our specimens from S. lateralis represent a species clearly distinct from all previously sequenced Mesocestoides and closely related to 2 forms from domestic dogs and Channel Island fox in California previously published as Mesocestoides sp. C.

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