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Keywords:

  • Crinoids;
  • Devonian;
  • Escalation;
  • Parasitism;
  • Platyceratids

One of the classic examples of biotic interactions preserved in the fossil record is that between crinoids and infesting platyceratid gastropods. This relationship, spanning an interval from the Middle Ordovician to the end of the Permian, is recognized by the firm attachment and positioning of platyceratids over the anal vent of their hosts. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this interaction; the most widely accepted is that the gastropods were coprophagous commensals, feeding on crinoid excrement without any significant detriment to their hosts. The purpose of this investigation was to test this hypothesis. Two species of Middle Devonian camerate (Monobathrida, Compsocrinina) crinoids, Gennaeocrinus variabilis Kesling & Smith 1962 and Corocrinus calypso (Hall 1862), were used in this investigation. The data consisted of 426 individuals of G. variabilis collected near Rockport, Michigan, 30 of which were infested, and 188 individuals of C. calypso collected near Arkona, Ontario, Canada, of which 25 were infested. Length and volume were measured for each crinoid to determine whether a significant difference existed in the size of infested versus uninfested individuals. The results indicated that for both species of crinoids individuals infested by snails were significantly smaller than uninfested individuals (p < 0.05). We explored a variety of scenarios to explain this pattern and conclude that they falsify the null hypothesis that the crinoid-gastropod relationship was strictly commensal. The smaller size of the infested crinoids is interpreted as a consequence of nutrient-stealing by the parasitic gastropods, a strategy that finds analogs in modern seas. Moreover, the absence of platyceratids on the largest crinoids suggests that large size may have inferred immunity from lasting infestation.