Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
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Announcing a new species!

What does Cabrillo Marine Aquarium have in common with a leech? A name!

This extra-special leech, Heptacyclus cabrilloi, was discovered during the Inner Cabrillo Beach Survey. The survey is conducted three times a year to monitor the abundance and diversity of marine life along Inner Cabrillo Beach. As part of the survey, CMA staff members collect animals in a secure net and staff and volunteers carefully sort fishes and invertebrates by species into buckets. The animals are counted, measured and weighed before being returned to the ocean.

One giant kelpfish collected during a recent survey happened to have several small, interesting looking creatures attached to its body and fins. After closer inspection, CMA Exhibits and Collections Curator Dr. Julianne Kalman Passarelli realized they were leeches; parasites living on the giant kelpfish. The next step was to identify the leech, but after additional research, it could not be identified. This meant the leech was new to science and was a species that hadn’t been identified before. But hasn’t every animal large or small been discovered by now?

“Parasitologists are more than 100 years behind researchers who study and identify fish. The giant kelpfish was identified and named in 1854, but back then scientists were more interested in the fish rather than what was living on it,” said Passarelli. “Now scientists are finding many new species of parasites. I love parasitology. When other people see a fish, they see an animal. When I see a fish, I see a habitat.”

Perceiving a fish as a habitat allows Passarelli to notice parasites that are typically small and well-camouflaged like Heptacyclus cabrilloi. This leech is only 14 mm long and golden-yellow, blending in perfectly with the coloring of the giant kelpfish. It looks like a very small worm with four eyes and a circular head and tail that feature round suckers used to attach to its host. Heptacyclus cabrilloi must be in sea water to survive and cannot harm people in any way because it’s adapted to live exclusively on fish.

Passaerelli worked with Dr. Eugene Burreson at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Bernard Kim at UCLA to describe the leech. “We determined that the leech belongs to the genus Heptacyclus based on several characteristics, including its smooth body, two pairs of eyes on the oral sucker and a body composed of six segments,” said Passarelli.

“Once we identified the genus, and after we confirmed it was a new species, we chose the species name based on where the leech was discovered. As far as we know, this leech only lives on giant kelpfish found at Inner Cabrillo Beach, hence the species name cabrilloi. With more research we may discover it lives on fish in other locations.” (The “i” at the end of cabrilloi was added to complete the Latin scientific name.)

Visit CMA's library to read the paper about the discovery and identification of Heptacyclus cabrilloi that was published in the August 2012 Journal of Parasitology.

Post Date: Monday, November 26, 2012


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