An unidentified xiphidio-type cercaria, previously thought inconsequential to catfish health, was found to be released from marsh rams-horn snails (Planorbella trivolvis) inhabiting ponds on a commercial catfish operation in the Mississippi Delta. A preliminary challenge of cohabiting channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) with snails actively shedding the unidentified cercariae resulted in death of some fish. A second cohabitation trial yielded similar results, as did a third challenge of 250 cercariae/fish. Histopathology revealed developing metacercariae concentrated in the cranial region, especially within the branchial chamber, with several metacercariae at the base of the branchial arches within, or adjacent to, blood vessels, possibly the proximate cause of death. Genetic sequence analysis of the 18S small subunit ribosomal DNA (ssDNA), 28S large subunit rDNA (lsDNA), and cytochrome oxidase (Cox1) genes all matched the cercariae to Drepanocephalus spathans (Digenea: Echinostomatidae), a parasite of the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), a piscivorous bird endemic on most catfish farms. This is the first commentary regarding pathology of D. spathans in juvenile channel catfish as well as the first report of the marsh rams-horn snail as an intermediate host in the D. spathans life cycle. The data presented here suggest this parasite could have limiting effects on catfish production, further supporting the need for adequate snail control programs to reduce trematode prevalence on commercial catfish operations.
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