ABSTRACT

The hemocoel of 26 of 30 (86%) eastern grass shrimps, Palaemon paludosus (Gibbes, 1850) (Decapoda: Palaemonidae), captured during June 2017 from several freshwater lakes near Leesburg and Lake Kissimmee, Florida, was infected by juveniles of a nematode species (Mermithidae sp.). Some infected eastern grass shrimps were preserved whole for histopathology, whereas others were dissected to excise parasitic juvenile nematodes, and still others were kept alive in glass aquaria such that post-parasitic (emerged) juvenile nematodes could be opportunistically observed alive and ultimately preserved. Parasitic and post-parasitic juvenile nematodes had cuticle cross-fibers, cephalic papillae, cup-shaped amphids, a horn-shaped vagina, a trophosome, and a caudal appendage, which collectively diagnosed them as Mermithidae sp. They differed from those of nematomorphs (Nematomorpha) by lacking 4 giant cells anteriorly, tegumental bristles, scale or plate-like areoles, a bifurcate or trifurcate posterior end, and an anus. A phylogenetic analysis of the small subunit rDNA (18S) that included all of the available mermithid sequences corresponding to morphologically diagnosed specimens recovered Mermithidae sp. within the clade of mermithids and sister to Ovomermis sinensis Chen, Jian, and Ren, 1991. This is the first record of a mermithid infection in a decapod and first report of a mermithid infection in an aquatic crustacean from North America (another mermithid infects a terrestrial isopod there). The high prevalence of infection and the multiple geographic localities harboring infected eastern grass shrimps indicated that these infections were not spurious. Because no other decapod is confirmed as a mermithid host, we suspect that these specimens likely represent a new species with a life cycle worth studying, since none for a mermithid involving a decapod nor a crustacean has been elucidated to date. We also provide a table of all mermithid and nematomorph infections in crustaceans.

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