The peculiar nemertean larva pilidium recurvatum belongs to Riserius sp., a basal heteronemertean that eats Carcinonemertes errans, a hoplonemertean parasite of Dungeness crab


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A typical nemertean pilidium larva resembles a hat with ear flaps. But one type, called pilidium recurvatum, looks more like a sock, swimming heel first. This distinctive larva was discovered in 1883 off the coast of Rhode Island and subsequently found in plankton samples from other parts of the world. Despite the long time since discovery, and its significance in discussions of larval evolution, this larva remained unidentified even to the family level. We collected pilidium recurvatum larvae from plankton samples in Coos Bay, OR, and identified them as belonging to the heteronemertean genus Riserius based on juvenile morphology and DNA sequence data. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that two distinct types of pilidium recurvatum from Oregon represent two new species within this currently monotypic genus. We describe the morphology of pilidium recurvatum using confocal microscopy and compare it to that of the typical pilidium, discussing possible implications for larval feeding. We also report our surprising discovery that juveniles of Riserius sp. from Oregon prey on another nemertean, Carcinonemertes errans, an egg predator of Cancer magister (Dungeness crab), a commercially important species. We speculate that the species-level diversity and geographic distribution of Riserius may be much greater than currently appreciated.