Two types of tetraphyllidean merocercoids, Phyllobothrium delphini and Monorygma grimaldii, are well known from most cetaceans world-wide. The role of cetaceans in the life-cycle of these merocercoids is unclear because their specific identity is as yet unknown. The problem is compounded by poor descriptions of both merocercoids. We used light and scanning electron microscopy, and histological techniques to provide a thorough description of merocercoids collected from 11 striped dolphins, Stenella coeruleoalba, from the Spanish Mediterranean. We also described, for the first time, specimens of P. delphini with immature proglottides. Our merocercoids were morphologically similar to those described previously, except in the structure of the apical organ. Intra- and inter-sample variability in the morphology of the apical organ suggested that it degenerates during larval development. A subsample of 16 specimens of P. delphini and M. grimaldii was characterized for the D2 variable region of the large subunit ribosomal RNA gene (LSU) and compared with published tetraphyllidean cestode LSU sequences. P. delphini showed 2 unique signatures that differed from one another by a single base, whereas all sequences of M. grimaldii were identical. This suggests that each type may represent a single species, contrary to previous speculations based on morphological data. All merocercoid specimens formed a clade together with Clistobothrium montaukensis. Based on the low degree of divergence, all specimens of this clade are predicted to be congeneric.
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