Shrimp-sucking parasite found in the North Pacific

(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers first spotted the parasite Orthione griffins near Calvert Island in British Columbia. This is the northernmost evidence of the appearance of this parasite.

Ortho griffins are a drop-sized crustacean native to Asia and Russia. Over the past 30 years, it has wiped out populations of mud shrimp in California and Washington, DC, causing the decline of the fragile ecosystems in which shrimp play an important role. By the 2000s, the parasite had even reached Vancouver Island. The discovery of O. griffins on Calvert Island, described in a new study, is a major leap of the parasite to the north by almost 300 kilometers.

Scientists discovered the parasite in 2017 during the “inventory” of marine organisms. Most researchers have so far assumed that this shrimp-eating parasite is spread exclusively by human transport, covering distances in the ballast vessels of ships. But a new find of a microscopic crustacean shows that it can move in the water on its own.

This crustacean parasite, in the pre-adult part of its cycle, catches copepods, intermediate hosts that allow organisms to travel in search of shrimp. As adults, the parasites attach themselves to the gills of another crustacean host – the mud shrimp Upogebia pugettensis – and begin to suck blood from it. Contaminated mud shrimp lack the energy they need to even reproduce.

Scientists are currently tracking the spread of the parasite northward. The prevalence of this organism on Calvert Island indicates that it may soon reach the northern coast of British Columbia and move on to Alaska, the upper border of the range of mud shrimp.

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