The pathogenic helminth parasites of eels


C R Kennedy, School of Biosciences, Hatherly Laboratories, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4PS, UK


Although 63 and 55 species of helminths have been reported from each species of Atlantic eel and from 29 to 19 for each species of Pacific eel only the monogeneans Pseudodactylogyrus bini and P. anguillae and the nematode Anguillicola crassus, originally specific to species of Pacific eels, can be considered serious pathogens. None of the three are normally pathogenic to their preferred natural eel host species in the wild. Pseudodactylogyrus spp. only cause serious local gill damage when present on a host in large numbers under optimal conditions that facilitate transmission. This is the case in eel aquaculture, where infections can be controlled by drugs. Anguillicola crassus is only pathogenic to Anguilla anguilla and A. rostrata when Atlantic eels are introduced to the far east or when the parasites have been introduced to Europe. Here the parasite life cycle differs in that A. crassus can infect a wide range of intermediate hosts, employ paratenic hosts and survive as larvae for months in the swimbladder wall. This makes it an excellent colonizer. Its major pathogenic effects on eels result from haemorrhaging in, and thickening of, the swimbladder wall. It reduces the oxygen concentration in the swimbladder, reducing its ability to function as a hydrostatic organ, and increases the stress response of eels. In shallow lakes at warm temperatures this can result in mass mortalities. It is also feared that the parasite affects the ability of eels to migrate to the Sargasso Sea and so contributes to the decline in eel populations. Control by drug treatment is possible in culture, but not in the wild.