• biodiversity;
  • ciliates;
  • cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (cox1);
  • groundwater;
  • interior-branch test;
  • phylogeny;
  • silverline pattern;
  • SSU rDNA


The identification of species within the genus Tetrahymena is known to be difficult due to their essentially identical morphology, the occurrence of cryptic and sibling species and the phenotypic plasticity associated with the polymorphic life cycle of some species. We have combined morphology and molecular biology to describe Tetrahymena aquasubterranea n. sp. from groundwater of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa. The phylogenetic analysis compares the cox1 gene sequence of T. aquasubterranea with the cox1 gene sequences of other Tetrahymena species and uses the interior-branch test to improve the resolution of the evolutionary relationships. This showed a considerable genetic divergence of T. aquasubterranea to its next relative, T. farlyi, of 9.2% (the average cox1 divergence among bona fide species of Tetrahymena is ~ 10%). Moreover, the analysis also suggested a sister relationship between T. aquasubterranea and a big clade comprising T. farleyi, T. tropicalis, T. furgasoni and T. mobilis. The morphological data available for these species show that they share with T. aquasubterranea a pyriformis-like life style and at least two of them, T. farleyi and T. mobilis, a similar type II silverline pattern consisting of primary and secondary meridians. Tetrahymena aquasubterranea exhibits a biphasic life cycle with trophonts and theronts, is amicronucleate, and feeds on bacteria.