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Nagler, Christina; Hyzny, Matus and Haug, Joachim T. (2017): 168 million years old "marine lice" and the evolution of parasitism within isopods. In: BMC evolutionary biology 17:76 [PDF, 15MB]

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BACKGROUND: Isopods (woodlice, slaters and their relatives) are common crustaceans and abundant in numerous habitats. They employ a variety of lifestyles including free-living scavengers and predators but also obligate parasites. This modern-day variability of lifestyles is not reflected in isopod fossils so far, mostly as the life habits of many fossil isopods are still unclear. A rather common group of fossil isopods is Urda (190-100 million years). Although some of the specimens of different species of Urda are considered well preserved, crucial characters for the interpretation of their lifestyle (and also of their phylogenetic position), have so far not been accessible. RESULTS: Using up-to-date imaging methods, we here present morphological details of the mouthparts and the thoracopods of 168 million years old specimens of Urda rostrata. Mouthparts are of a sucking-piercing-type morphology, similar to the mouthparts of representatives of ectoparasitic isopods in groups such as Aegidae or Cymothoidae. The thoracopods bear strong, curved dactyli most likely for attaching to a host. Therefore, mouthpart and thoracopod morphology indicate a parasitic lifestyle of Urda rostrata. Based on morphological details, Urda seems deeply nested within the parasitic isopods of the group Cymothoida. CONCLUSIONS: Similarities to Aegidae and Cymothoidae are interpreted as ancestral characters; Urda is more closely related to Gnathiidae, which is therefore also interpreted as an ingroup of Cymothoida. With this position Urda provides crucial information for our understanding of the evolution of parasitism within isopods. Finally, the specimens reported herein represent the oldest parasitic isopods known to date.

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