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Rarely reported, widely distributed, and unexpectedly diverse: molecular characterization of mermithid nematodes (Nematoda: Mermithidae) infecting bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus) in the USA

Tripodi, Amber D., Strange, James P.
Parasitology 2018 v.145 no.12 pp. 1558-1563
Bombus, Mermis, aquatic invertebrates, host-parasite relationships, hosts, national surveys, nucleotide sequences, parasites, parasitism, Northeastern United States
Mermithid nematodes (Nematoda: Mermithida: Mermithidae) parasitize a wide range of both terrestrial and aquatic invertebrate hosts, yet are recorded in bumble bees (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus) only six times historically. Little is known about the specific identity of these parasites. In a single-season nationwide survey of internal parasites of 3646 bumble bees, we encountered six additional instances of mermithid parasitism in four bumble bee species and genetically characterized them using two regions of 18S to identify the specific host–parasite relationships. Three samples from the northeastern USA are morphologically and genetically identified as Mermis nigrescens, whereas three specimens collected from a single agricultural locality in the southeast USA fell into a clade with currently undescribed species. Nucleotide sequences of the V2–V6 region of 18S from the southeastern specimens were 2.6–3.0% divergent from one another, and 2.2–4.0% dissimilar to the nearest matches to available data. The dearth of available data prohibits positive identification of this parasite and its affinity for specific bumble bee hosts. By doubling the records of mermithid parasitism of bumble bee hosts and providing genetic data, this work will inform future investigations of this rare phenomenon.