Exotic species can threaten biodiversity by introducing parasites to native hosts. Thus, it is critical to identify if the same parasite species infects both native and exotic hosts. However, developmental- or environmental-induced morphological variation may render species identification ambiguous. Our study reports a range expansion in the southern United States of the pentastome Raillietiella indica from the Mediterranean gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, as well as a host expansion into the green anole, Anolis carolinensis, in the anole's native range. Species identification was based on sequence data and male spicule shape. In agreement with a study from Australia, we found that much of the morphological variation in hook measurements, the primary diagnostic traits of raillietiellid pentastomes, was due to development. Here, we explicitly link this developmental variation to instar stage by incorporating experimental infection data obtained from the literature. We also show that the various hook traits are themselves highly correlated and, thus, likely not independent. Taking instar stage and correlated hook variables into account, we directly controlled for development on a composite hook size measurement. Using a large sample size from H. turcicus, we did not find any consistent effects of potential factors (host sex, host snout-vent-length, or parasite intensity) that may result in environmental-induced variation in relative hook size (corrected for body length). However, relative male spicule size tended to be negatively correlated with parasite intensity. In contrast, both pentastome body length and relative hook size significantly varied among host species whereas relative male spicule size was not significantly different among host species. Our study independently supports the conclusions that developmental- and host-induced morphological variations need to be accounted for to accurately identify pentastome species.
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Vol. 105 • No. 3