Bell-shaped ciliates of the subclass Peritrichia, such as Vorticella, Carchesium and Epistylis, are commonly found in freshwater and other aquatic environments, either solitary or colonial. Peritrichs attach to a substratum via a contractile or non-motile stalk, and collect food particles by water current using ciliary rows around the edge of the bell, called the peristome. Some peritrichs are epibiotic and ectocommensalistic associates of aquatic insects and other animals, settling on the surface of their specific hosts. Only a few peritrichs are known to establish a more internal association with their hosts, locating within the preoral cavity or esophagus of water beetles and presumably subsisting on food materials chewed and ingested by the insects. To date, no endoparasitic or endocommensalistic peritrichs have been reported from insects. Host insects reported to date have all been aquatic, and given the aquatic lifestyle of peritrichs, terrestrial hosts have been considered unlikely. In the present study, we report a dense population of bizarre microbes within the gut of a terrestrial insect, and histological, ultrastructural and molecular phylogenetic analyses identified it as a peritrich ciliate. The highly-developed hindgut of the stag beetle Aegus currani contained oval colonial peritrichs connected by branched stalks resembling grape clusters. Each zooid exhibited a reduced peristome without disc, a vestibulum with active ciliary movement inside, and an elongated macronucleus. These features are morphologically reminiscent of but distinct in some respects from those in Operculariella parasitica, known from the esophagus of dysticid diving beetles. Taxonomic, ecological and functional aspects of this gut-dwelling peritrich warrant future study.
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Vol. 34 • No. 3