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Marine Finfish Aquaculture Network

Crustacean parasites and their management in

brackishwater finfish culture
K.P. Jithendran*, M. Natarajan and I.S. Azad
Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture, 75 Santhome High Road, Chennai - 600 028, India.*
Email: kpjithendran@yahoo.com, Fax: +91-44-24610311.

Introduction among males. In branchiura the body is of naupliar stages they moult to
dorso-ventrally flattened with two pairs form copepodid stages. In primitive
There are three main groups of parasitic of antennae and pre-oral proboscis. The groups of parasitic copepods such as
crustaceans affecting commercially second maxillae are modified to form ergasilids, the copepodids are free
important aquaculture species, most prehensile suckers (eg. Argulus). swimming. Copulation occurs during
of which are external parasites: the the free-swimming stages, after which
Branchiura, Copepoda and Isopoda. the male die. The female is left to seek,
Members of the Branchiura and Isopoda Parasites attach and mature on a marine or
are relatively large and both sexes are freshwater fish host with the help of the
parasitic, while copepods, the most The common crustacean parasite prominent claw like second antennae.
common crustacean parasites, are species encountered in brackish water or In more evolved copepods such as the
generally small to microscopic with both low saline systems are given in Table 1. caligids some or all of the copepodid
free living and parasitic stages in their stages may be parasitic including adult
life cycle. Male parasitic copepods die males. Caligid copepods generally have
after copulation in the pre-adult stages, Life cycle and direct life cycle, consisting of a free-
so those that are seen attached to living planktonic nauplius stage, free
fish are generally mature females with transmission swimming infective copepodid stages,
distinctive paired egg sacs at the poste- attached chalimus, pre-adults and adult
rior end. The crustacean parasites dealt Parasitic copepods have a complex stages. In case of Lernaea sp. the eggs
here are primarily those that are likely life cycle with different larval stages; released by the female hatch in 1-3
to cause problems when commonly between each of which is a moult. days with subsequent nauplii larvae.
cultured fish species are grown in Eggs hatch to release free-swimming The nauplius metamorphoses into first
inland low saline or freshwater, though nauplius larvae. After a succession or second copepodid stage in 4-16
such studies are scarce in India. Under
culture conditions, modified specificity Figure 1. Important crustacean parasites in brackishwater fish:
is also exhibited by many crustacean Lernanthropus sp. and Caligus sp.
parasites in that they will invade
‘unnatural’ hosts that are not normally
present in their natural habitats.

Parasitic crustaceans are numerous

and have worldwide distribution in fresh,
brackish and salt waters (Figure 1).
Usually they cause only minor harm
to their hosts when present in small
numbers. However, in case of heavy
infections severe damage to skin,
muscles, and gill tissue accompanied
with secondary infections can occur.
Parasitic crustaceans a great diversity
of forms with marked structural
modifications to suit their parasitic mode
of life. These range from the typical
features of normal copepods such
as unfused abdominal segments and
nearly full complements of appendages,
to genera such as Lernaea (‘anchor
worm’) in which the body segments
are fused together and many of the
appendages are missing or modified
at least in parasitic stages. Generally,
sensory organs and the reproductive
systems are well developed. Sexes
are usually separate with clear sexual
dimorphism with predominant dwarfism

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Table 1. Common crustacean parasitic infection in brackish water finfish in coastal and estuarine zones.
Subclass / family Genus Characteristics
Body broad and flat covered anteriorly with dorsal shield with a pair of compound eyes,
Argulidae Argulus sp. hooks and barbs, which it uses to attach to the fins, gills and skin of its host, second
maxillae usually form prehensile suckers.
Transparent, cephalothorax covered dorsally by a sub circular shield, with a pair of
Caligus sp.
suckers on the frontal edge of the body and four pair of legs, vestigial abdomen in
Caligidae Lepeophtheirus sp.
some species, found in large numbers on gills and body surface with different stages of
Anuretes sp.
life cycle in the same host.
Cephalothorax constituting half or more of body length, the second antennae are
Ergasilidae Ergasilus sp. modified for clinging to the host, moderate to large numbers on gills with rigorous
feeding action and movements.
Few in number but large in size, feed on gill tissues and blood, seriously damage the
Lernanthropidae Lernanthropus sp.
Body unsegmented, with its anterior part deeply embedded in host tissue with the help
Lernaeidae Lernaea sp.
of a hold fast organ, infect nostril, skin, fin, gills, buccal cavity.
Entire dorsal surface of body divided into many narrow segments, eyes are sessile,
Cymothoidae Cymothoa sp.
parasite immovably attached to surface, buccal or branchial cavity of fish.

days. No further development occurs Parasites, clinical signs parasites access to cultivable fish. Since
unless it attaches to a host. Larvae both adults and larval stages are active
pass through five successive copepodid and effects swimmers, it is difficult to prevent them
stages before attachment. Copulation from entering the pond. Appropriate filter
occurs during the fourth copepodid Branchiurans designs might prove more efficacious to
stage and the male dies similar to the check the degree of infestation.
Ergasilus sp. Although Argulus sp. Members of the family Argulidae
cannot survive without a host for long represented by genus Argulus
period, they may swim freely looking commonly called as ‘fish lice’ has a Copepods
for new host. Unlike other crustaceans, broad, flat oval body with hooks and
there is no sexual dimorphism; eggs barbs, which it uses to attach to the fins, Caligus sp.
are not carried by the females in egg gills and skin of its host. They are one
sacs, but the parasite leaves its host to of the most widespread and dangerous Caligus sp. or ‘sea lice’ are common
deposit its eggs on submerged objects. ectoparasites of freshwater and marine copepod parasites in the family
Larvae do not hatch as nauplii but as fish. They damage the fish directly Caligidae, infesting a wide range of fish
copepodid stage with thoracic append- by extracting blood and vital tissue species in the coastal and estuarine
ages to follow a series of subsequent fluids from the host with their modified zones although other lesser known
larval stages by progressive develop- mouthparts. The mode of feeding of fish species viz., Lepeophtheirus sp.
ment of the dorsal shield and abdomen, Argulus involves secretion and injection and Anuretes sp. are have also been
the maxillary suckers and reproductive of relatively large quantities of digestive reported to be afflicted in the Indian
organs. Thus, transmission of parasites fluids, which are toxic to the fish. The subcontinent. Three species of Caligus,
within the system is by physical contact sting of one fish lice can kill a small fish. C. epidemicus, C. orientalis and C.
with infected animals or by the free Feeding sites become hemorrhagic punctatus are the potential major
living infective stages after reproduction. and ulcerated and provide access to pathogens in the development of cage
Many species simply glide from one fish secondary infections by other patho- culture. Caligus orientalis seriously
to other. Many parasites are transferred gens. Mucous is secreted when skin, fin affects wild populations as well. When
to culture system by way of water, live and gills become infected. they first infect a farmed fish population
feed, wild fish, contaminated farm imple- they cause extensive irritation and
ments etc. Hence control methods may Branchiuran parasites on fishes nervous activity. Feeding on the fish
vary greatly depending upon the farm are usually found in the walls of the skin, mucous and blood, these lice
conditions, the type of parasites and its branchial cavity and not permanently can cause small hemorrhages and
life cycle stages. attached to their hosts, but can crawl sore, erode the skin and expose the
on their surfaces and can slowly swim underlying tissue to secondary infection.
leaving one fish to another. Sexual Caligid copepods have direct life cycle,
dimorphism is not marked. The only way consisting of a free-living planktonic
to prevent Argulus infection is to deny nauplius stage, free swimming infective

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Table 2 Common treatment against copepods in brackish water finfish.

Drugs / chemicals Dose Type of treatment, duration
Formalin 100-200 ppm Short bath; 30-60 min
H2O2 1000 ppm Short bath; 30-60 min
Dichlorvos 0.75 - 1 ppm Short bath; 60 min
Caprylic acid I mM Short bath; 5-10 min

copepodid stages, attached chalimus, Lernaea sp. crustacean organisms (Macrobrachium

pre-adults and adult stages. In most sp., Peneaus monodon) in coastal
cases, it is the attached chalimus stages Better known as the ‘anchor worm’, this freshwater or on brackishwater fishes
that cause significant pathological species affects a large number of warm inhabiting freshwater. They have a short
lesions leading to mortality when water fishes. Adults are visible to the free-living planktonic phase; juveniles
present in large numbers. The pre-adult naked eye. Although Lernaea is typically and adults are exclusively parasitic
and adult stages are not very invasive a freshwater copepod, it has been living on the skin, buccal cavity and gill
and cause minor tissue damage. In reported from brackishwater fish also. chamber of the fish (eg. Cymothoa).
disease situations, death is caused by The parasite seems to have an affinity The damage caused by them resem-
the development of secondary infections for the heart region of small fish and kills bles that of other copepods but the
exacerbated by stress, osmoregulatory them by piercing the heart or other vital most serious effect of isopod infection is
failure and in the case of the gills, organs. The female lernaeidid copepod destruction of host tissue resulting from
respiratory impairment. has long filamentous body with trailing the pressure of the parasites body. No
attached eggs sacs. Morphological specific control or therapeutic measures
The intensity of copepod infestation modifications include the head, which against isopods have been in practice
generally increases after rainfall and is a rounded knob inserted into the except the manual removal of the
late spring and decline in winter and musculature of its fish host; one or two parasite and by implementing optimum
summer due to the lack of recruitment pairs of anchors to hold it in position. management practices during culture
and parasite death. This is a major Damage to the fish host includes as infection by the planktonic phase is
problem in cage cultured brackish water hemmorhagic and ulcerated lesions the common feature.
fishes but the economic impact of this with potential for secondary infections,
disease is not known. anemia, retarded growth, loss of weight Diagnosis and management
and loss of equilibrium.
Ergasilus sp. Diagnosis is usually done by gross and
The destructive activity of Lernaea sp. microscopic examination of scrapings
Ergasilid copepods are found on the is due to its relatively large size and from skin, gills, fins etc. from affected
body surface, gills and branchial and its mode of attachment and feeding. fishes and by observing general clinical
nasal cavities of many fish species As the maximum damage to the fish symptoms. Pre-disposing factors for
including seabass, grouper, mullet, pearl is caused by the adult parasite which transmission of crustacean parasites
spot, tilapia etc, where it feeds on the remain attached to the host tissue with are poor water exchange and thus suffi-
blood and epithelium. Heavy infesta- an anterior holdfast organ and also by cient water exchange can prevent their
tions can result in mechanical damage, the developmental stages that remain proliferation. Modification of husbandry
patechial hemorrhage, impaired attached to the host, any reliable and practices can be a very effective
respiration, epithelial hyperplasia, and effective prophylactic measures should method to reduce the magnitude of
anemia with growth retardation. Severe aim at killing the free living stages of infection. Application of husbandry
gill damage is caused by the feeding the parasites at nauplii and copepodid practices to control the abundance
activity of the copepod and this often stages before it gets attached to the of parasitic copepods requires a
leads to fish death. Proliferation of this fish host. Lernaea is extremely difficult good knowledge of their biology (eg.
parasite is observed in summer. to control because only the free-living growth rates, duration of survival of
larvae are susceptible to treatment. infectious stages off-host etc.) and host
Lernanthropus sp. The adult female produces three sets of range. Routine disease management
eggs; these eggs produce larvae over measures such as reducing stocking
This species is relatively large, reddish a four week period. Since the larvae density and water quality management
in colour, firmly attached to the gills, remain free living for about one week, are likely to reduce the impact of
inflicts serous damage to the gills by it is necessary to treat once a week for parasitic copepods. It is well recognized
way of erosion, desquamation and four weeks to eliminate this parasite. that a few unhealthy / stressed animals
necrosis of the secondary lamellae near are more susceptible to infection and
the site of attachment. The grasping harbour the majority of the parasites.
action of the mandibles and the Isopods In pond culture, overcrowding and
maxillae results in the exposure of blood poor water quality has been cited as
vessels and hemorrhages. This serious Cymothoa sp. factors responsible for the development
pathogen is frequently encountered of parasitic copepod diseases. The
in many species of wild fish and cage This cause serious problem in fishes important management techniques
cultured sea bass. kept in captivity or cages. Isopods are to be followed are, rearing different
large parasites of wild tropical marine batches in separate tanks, pond drying,
fish and rarely found in other culture of removal of all probable hosts from the

July-September 2008 49
Marine Finfish Aquaculture Network

stocking sites prior to stocking so that of copepod parasitism is becoming a (eds. Gilda Lio Po, Celia R. Lavilla and Erlinda
all infectious stages die due to lack of regular phenomenon in culture condi- R Cruz-Lacierda), SEAFDEC, Philippines. pp.
hosts, quarantine prior to stocking and tions. The only sure way to prevent 55-73.
introduction to the rearing system and parasitic infection is to deny the parasite Thirunavukkarasu, A.R., Mathew Abraham and
frequent cleaning of holding tank/nets. access to the protected habitat. Although Kailasam, M. (2004). Hand book of seed
The parasites can be controlled by fresh it is well established that parasitic crusta- production and culture of Asian seabass, Lates
water bath for 10-15 min or by chemical ceans have a major impact on brackish calcarifer (Bloch). Bulletin No. 18. p.58.
treatment using 1000 ppm hydrogen water aquaculture there are relatively
peroxide or 100-200 ppm formalin for few published reports of disease and
30-60 min. Some of the treatments / or disease treatments and economic Lao PDR...from page 31.
commonly applied in brackishwater losses associated with these infections
fishes are shown in Table 2. Strong in India. We need to study the ecology Ounidate, Khometun & Parsirth (1993). Technical
aeration must be provided during of the parasite, including seasonality, report on the aquacultue of C.molitorella in
treatment. Drying of unused tanks also maturation and the population dynamics Luang Prabang. Living Aquatic Resource
helps to destroy the developing stages. and transmission mechanisms vis-à-vis Research Center, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
Treated fish should be transferred to physicochemical parameters of the Pennapaporn, P. (1970). The culture of pla-ka,
clean parasite free facility. rearing water in order to prevent and Morulius chrysophekadion (Bleeker) with
control the outbreak of the species in common carp, Cyprinus carpio Linn. in ponds.
It is well recognized that parasites act brackish water aquaculture. Annual Report 1970. Pond and Experiment
as mechanical vectors of the pathogens Culture section. Aquaculture Unit, Inland
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