Abstract

Hairworms (Nematomorpha: Gordiida) are internal parasites that alter the behavior of their terrestrial insect host, forcing it to enter the water to reach its reproductive habitat. After reproduction of the free-living adults, the larvae encyst in aquatic insects and are retained upon metamorphosis of the insect into an adult fly. This paratenic host links the aquatic and terrestrial environments after its consumption by omnivorous or predatory insects. Therefore, hairworms are usually only associated with invertebrates, and few reports discuss hairworm interactions with vertebrate species. Here, we report on the finding of horsehair worms in nests of a cavity-nesting bird species in Los Alamos County, New Mexico. From 2004 to 2008, 7 nests within nest boxes occupied by the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) contained 8 hairworms that were identified as Gordius robustus. All of the nest boxes with worms were less than 100 m from stagnant or low-flowing streams. The most likely explanation for the presence of the worms in the nests is that worms engaged in anti-predator avoidance after their insect hosts were collected and before digestion by nestling birds.

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