As a part of intensive study of blood parasite infections in a population of the passerine bird blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus, Paridae), we detected a parasite species that, based on its morphological similarity, was tentatively identified as Hepatozoon parus, the only species of this parasite genus described from birds of this family. However, morphological measurements show that H. parus is slightly larger than the parasite detected in our population. A molecular characterization of the parasite species was conducted by amplification of the 18S rDNA gene, using primers that were reported previously to amplify in Hepatozoon sp. of water pythons. Additional primers were developed based on the new sequence obtained. The 1,484-bp fragment amplified reveals that the parasite from our bird population is more closely related to Lankesterella minima than to Hepatozoon species from other vertebrates according to analysis using the BLAST comparison method (93% identity). In addition, phylogenetic analyses using parsimony and Kimura procedures unequivocally related the parasite species detected by PCR with L. minima. The bootstrap values obtained were 97% and 100%, respectively. These results imply that this parasite is a species of a lankesterellid instead of Hepatozoon.
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