Field of Science

Life Among a Shrimp's Gills

Female of Schizobopyrina bombyliaster from Williams & Boyko (2004), with red box added on ventral view to indicate position of small male.

For today's random subject, I drew the marine isopod genus Schizobopyrina. Schizobopyrina is a genus in the family Bopyridae, and females of this genus were distinguished by Markham (1985) from those of the related genus Bopyrina by the presence of palp on the maxilliped (part of the mouthparts), by its more elongate oostegites (the lamellae forming the brood pouch in which eggs and larvae are incubated), and by the fusion of the pleomeres (posterior segments) on one side of the body. About ten or so species have been assigned to this genus from warmer waters around the world.

Mature bopyrids are parasites of shrimps and other crustaceans (Schizobopyrina has been found on hosts of the families Palaemonidae, Gnathophyllidae and Hippolytidae). Schizobopyrina and related genera are found in the branchial (gill) cavities of their host. Shrimp gills are developed from side-branches of the base of the legs, and are covered by an overhanging shelf of the carapace (if anyone is familiar with the process of preparing a crayfish or lobster, the gills are the 'dead man's fingers' that you have to remove before serving the crayfish). In a shrimp that is host to Schizobopyrina, the branchial cavity will become greatly protruding, as can be seen in this photo of a bumblebee shrimp Gnathophyllum americanum parasitised by Schizobopyrina bombyliaster (from Williams & Boyko 2004; scale bar equals 1.0 mm):

Bopyrids are released from the parent host as larvae that initially attach themselves to copepods. When they are approaching maturity, they leave the copepod and find an appropriate adult host. The first larva to attach itself to an appropriate shrimp will develop into a female, while any subsequent larva to attach itself will develop into a male (Cash & Bauer 1993). As can be seen in the figure at the top of this post, the female is considerably larger than the male. She is also noticeably asymmetrical in her body form, though a single species may include individuals bent to either the left or the right (Markham 1985). The female bopyrid attaches herself to her host before it reaches maturity: this puts her at risk of losing her place as the host moults, but studies of another branchial parasite bopyrid, Probopyrus pandalicola, indicate that as the host cuticle tears away during the process of moulting, the female is able to reattach herself to the new cuticle underneath and keep her place (Cash & Bauer 1993). The smaller male looks very different to the female, and is much more symmetrical. He attaches himself to the female, but whether or how he feeds is unknown. In Probopyrus pandalicola, the female moults, then produces eggs, after each moult of her host; the male has been observed crawling at this point into the brood pouch of the female, where he presumably fertilises her eggs.

Just as a further aside, the recent description of the species featured in the figures used in this post, Schizobopyrina bombyliaster Williams & Boyko 2004, was of further interest because the type specimen of this parasitic isopod was itself host to a hyperparasitic isopod, the cabiropid Cabirops bombyliophila. Which gives me an idea for a matryoshka design...


Cash, C. E., & R. T. Bauer. 1993. Adaptations of the branchial parasite Probopyrus pandalicola (Isopoda: Bopyridae) for survival and reproduction related to ecdysis of the host, Palaemonetes pugio (Caridea: Palaemonidae). Journal of Crustacean Biology 13 (1): 111-124.

Markham, J. C. 1985. A review of the bopyrid isopods infesting caridean shrimps in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, with special reference to those collected during the Hourglass cruises in the Gulf of Mexico. Memoirs of the Hourglass Cruises 7 (3): 1-156.

Williams, J. D., & C. B. Boyko. 2004. A new species of Schizobopyrina Markham, 1985 (Crustacea: Isopoda: Bopyridae: Bopyrinae) parasitic on a Gnathophyllum shrimp from Polynesia, with description of an associated hyperparasitic isopoda (Crustacea: Isopoda: Cabiropidae). Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 55 (24): 439-450.

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