Ectoparasitic copepods have been reported in a wide range of aquatic animals, including crustacean shellfish. However, with the exception of the salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, our knowledge of such parasites in commercial species is rudimentary. The current study examines the morphology and pathology of the parasitic copepod, Nicothoë astaci (the ‘lobster louse’) in its host, the European lobster, Homarus gammarus. Lobsters were sampled from waters surrounding Lundy Island (Bristol Channel, UK) and all individuals collected were found to harbour female adult N. astaci in their gills, with a mean of 47·3 parasites/lobster. The majority of N. astaci were found in the basal region of pleurobranch gills. The parasite was found to attach to gill filaments via its oral sucker, maxillae and maxillipeds, and to feed on host haemolymph (blood) through a funnel-like feeding channel. It caused varying degrees of damage to the host gill, including occlusion of gill filaments and disruption to the vascular system in the central axis. Although there was evidence of extensive host response (haemocytic infiltration) to the parasite, it was displaced from the parasite attachment site and thus was observed in the central gill axis below. The region of gill filament immediately underlying the parasite feeding channel was devoid of such activity suggesting that the parasite interferes with the cellular defence and haemostatic mechanisms of the lobster in order to maintain invasion of the host.
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