Eustrongylides ignotus is a parasitic nematode whose definitive hosts are often piscivorous wading birds (Ciconiiformes). Several species of small fishes are intermediate hosts, while larger predatory fish may be paratenic (transport) hosts. We examined predation susceptibility of infected mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) to three species of predatory fishes, including juvenile largemouth bass (Micropterus salminoides), warmouth (Lepomis gulosus), and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). A 250 L aquarium with removable plexiglass divider and remote observation windows was constructed. Aquatic macrophytes were placed in the tank to provide refuge for the fishes. Predatory fish were allowed to acclimate to one half of the tank, while one infected and one uninfected mosquitofish were placed in the other. The divider was removed and an observer recorded the number of capture attempts and time required for capture. Predators were observed for behavioral alterations for 4 days after ingestion of infected mosquitofish, then examined at necropsy. Infected prey were selected preferentially in 31 of 38 (82%) trials. The number of capture attempts was 2.7 ± 0.2 (x̄ ± SE) for infected fish and 3.9 ± 0.4 for uninfected fish. Mean time of capture was 12.4 ± 1.6 min for infected fish and 21.7 ± 2.9 for uninfected fish. Because of these differences, infected mosquitofish were more susceptible to predation (P < 0.01) than uninfected fish. Aberrant behavior including lethargy, convulsions, and buoyancy abnormalities was observed in eight (67%) predatory fish. At necropsy, larvae of E. ignotus were found in the coelomic cavity, viscera, and swim bladders of predators. Parasite-induced behavior modification of intermediate hosts may predispose them to predation by wading birds and thereby facilitate the transmission of this nematode in natural populations.
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Vol. 37 • No. 3