Host specificity and feeding in European pea crabs (Brachyura, Pinnotheridae)

in Crustaceana
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Pinnotherids, or pea crabs, are symbionts of invertebrates used for shelter and as food source. Feeding strategies and morphological adaptations to food uptake are important to understand host relations and how the host specificity is determined. We herein re-examine the host range of pinnotherids based on long-term collections from different localities in European waters. Both species of Pinnotheres are restricted to bivalves. Pinnotheres pisum infests mussels, oysters, the noble pen shell Pinna nobilis and other bivalves. Pinnotheres pectunculi is symbiotic with Glycymeris glycymeris and several other species of venerids. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres infests ascidians and Pinna nobilis. Observations on feeding in Pinnotheres reveal how mucus strings are brushed from the host gills with a setal comb in the chelipeds, which we describe by using scanning electron microscopy. Our observations on feeding structures are discussed in relation to the host specificity of each species and compared to other pinnotherid taxa, taking additional factors of host choice into account.


International Journal of Crustacean Research



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  • Selection of bivalves investigated from the North Sea (original sizes). Names of hosts of Pinnotheres pisum (Linnaeus, 1767) in white letters, names of non-infested species in grey letters. Photographs: Sven Tränkner, Senckenberg.

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  • Bivalve hosts from the northeastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean (original sizes, except for B: see scale bar). A, Oyster and mussel hosts of Pinnotheres pisum (Linnaeus, 1767) in the Mediterranean; B, the Mediterranean pen shell Pinna nobilis Linnaeus, 1758 infested by Nepinnotheres pinnotheres (Linnaeus, 1758) and P. pisum, respectively; C, hosts of Pinnotheres pectunculi Hesse, 1872: the dog cockle Glycymeris glycymeris (Linnaeus, 1758) and venerid species. Photographs: A, B, Carola Becker; C, Sven Tränkner and Carola Becker; Venus verrucosa Linnaeus, 1758, Hans Hillewart, VLIZ, Belgium.

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  • Feeding of Pinnotheres species in bivalves. A, Adult female of Pinnotheres pisum (Linnaeus, 1767) in oyster, Ostrea edulis Linnaeus, 1758, with right valve removed; B, chelipeds are oriented ventrally by a distortion of the carpus; C, mucus strings are picked up by setal comb of the claw (black arrow on mucus string); D, E, Pinnotheres pectunculi Hesse, 1872 feeding in Glycymeris glycymeris (Linnaeus, 1758).

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  • Nepinnotheres pinnotheres (Linnaeus, 1758) in dissected ascidians. A, Pair of male and hard stage female in Microcosmus sp.; B, adult female in Halocynthia papillosa (Linnaeus, 1767).

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  • Cheliped of adult female Pinnotheres pisum (Linnaeus, 1767) (SEM-micrographs). A, Palm of right cheliped showing setal comb; B, soft denticles and simple setae on cutting edge of claw; C, fixed (propodus) and movable finger (dactylus) of the claw showing setation; D, setal comb consisting of long regularly orientated pappo-serrate setae; E, higher magnification on setulation of setae shaft; F, distal tip of pappo-serrate setae.

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  • Cheliped of adult female Nepinnotheres pinnotheres (Linnaeus, 1758) (SEM-micrographs). A, Claw with fixed and movable finger; B, field of long plumose setae around the cutting edges of the claw; C, simple setae of different lengths along the cutting edges of the claw; D, complete surface covered by different types of setae; E, short plumose setae that cover the whole body; F, higher magnification of plumose setae with fine soft setules.

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