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Nagler, Christina; Haug, Joachim T. (2016): Functional morphology of parasitic isopods: understanding morphological adaptations of attachment and feeding structures in Nerocila as a pre-requisite for reconstructing the evolution of Cymothoidae. In: PeerJ, Vol. 4, e2188


Parasites significantly influence food webs and ecosystems and occur all over the world in almost every animal group. Within crustaceans there are numerous examples of ectoparasites;for example, representatives of the isopod group Cymothoidae. These obligatory parasitic isopods are relatively poorly studied regarding their functional morphology. Here we present new details of the morphological adaptations to parasitism of the cymothoiid ingroup Nerocila with up-to-date imaging methods (macro photography, stereo imaging, fluorescence photography, micro CT, and histology). Central aspects of the study were (1) the morphology of the mouthparts and (2) the attachment on the host, hence the morphology of the thoracopods. The mouthparts (labium, mandibles, paragnaths, maxillulae, maxillae, maxillipeds) form a distinct mouth cone and are most likely used for true sucking. The mouthparts are tightly "folded" around each other and provide functional rails for the only two moving mouthparts, mandible and maxillula. Both are not moving in, an ancestral-type median lateral movement, but are strongly tilted to move more in a proximal-distal axis. New details concerning the attachment demonstrate that the angular arrangement of the thoracopods is differentiated to impede removal by the host. The increased understanding of morphological adaptation to parasitism of modern forms will be useful in identifying disarticulated (not, attached to the host) fossil parasites.