The precise transmission mode(s) of acephaline gregarines in their earthworm hosts has long been questioned, yet a rigorous experimental evaluation of sexual transmission is currently lacking. That Monocystis sp., a common gregarine parasite of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris, infects the sexual organs of its host is suggestive of sexual transmission. Considering the divergent evolutionary consequences of various modes of transmission, excluding or proving sexual transmission in this host– parasite system is critical to fully understanding it. We cultured uninfected earthworms from cocoons and subsequently mated them to either an infected or uninfected partner (from the wild). We then compared these individuals with an orally infected group, which were infected using a newly developed gavage (oral injection) method. Our data have unambiguously established that (1) horizontal sexual transmission does not play a significant role in the transmission of Monocystis sp., and (2) oral transmission through the soil is likely the principal mode of transmission between earthworms. This finding is important to models of mate-choice because infection avoidance does not appear to drive mating decisions. Finally, we further report a successful and relatively simple method to obtain infection-free individuals, which can subsequently be infected via oral gavage and used in empirical studies.
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