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Int J Parasitol. 2009 Apr;39(5):577-83. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2008.10.013. Epub 2008 Nov 17.

Parasitic castration of a vertebrate: Effect of the cymothoid isopod, Anilocra apogonae, on the five-lined cardinalfish, Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus.

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  • 1School of Integrative Biology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.


Parasitic castration, the specific blocking of host reproductive output by an individual parasite, is a host-parasite interaction common to many invertebrates, particularly crustaceans, echinoderms and molluscs. It can reduce host density, alter host population dynamics and the evolution of host life history traits. Here we show that parasitisation by a single female cymothoid isopod, Anilocra apogonae, castrates its vertebrate host, the five-lined cardinalfish, Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus. Parasitised male fish fail to mouthbrood their young. The gonads of parasitised fish are smaller and parasitised female fish have substantially fewer and smaller ova than do the gonads of unparasitised fish. As for parasitic castrators of invertebrate hosts, A. apogonae on C. quinquelineatus are uniformly dispersed amongst infested hosts (one adult female isopod per host), are site specific, and their body size is highly correlated with that of their host. These isopods are large relative to the body size of their hosts, averaging 3.8% of the weight of the host. Parasitised fish also weigh less and are shorter than unparasitised fish of the same age. Despite the presence of other potential hosts, A. apogonae only infests C. quinquelineatus. The consistency of the ecological correlates amongst known parasitic castrators suggests that the parasitic castrator host-parasite relationship will be recognised for other parasites of vertebrates.

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