During submersible surveys along the continental slope (summers of 1991 and 1992, 184-847 m) between False Cape, Virginia, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, USA, we observed the aegid isopod, Syscenus infelix Harger, attached to the macrourid Nezumia bairdii (Goode and Bean). This is the first report of S. infelix attached to fishes in the western North Atlantic. The association of this blind isopod with its host appears species specific. The large, conspicuous isopod always attached to a fish in the same location, the dorsal midline, immediately behind the first dorsal fin. Attachment appears to be long term, with the isopod forming a characteristic scar consisting of a distinct discolored oval depression with seven small, dark impressions that coalesce as the fish grows. Only one S. infelix was found on each host fish. The isopod occurred on 23.7% of N. bairdii observed from submersible on the middle continental slope off Virginia and North Carolina, compared with 16.6% of 1236 museum specimens of the same species (based on inspection for scars) collected at latitudes 26??-64??N. Prevalence of the fish-isopod association was not correlated with depth or latitude. We also found identical scars on preserved specimens of N. aequalis (2.6% of 660 specimens), N. sclerorhynchus (1.2% of 86 specimens), and N. suilla (14.3% of 7 specimens), mostly from areas outside the range of N. bairdii. No scars were found on museum specimens of N. atlantica (n = 27), N. cyrano (n = 57), or N. longebarbata (n = 7). The low incidence of isopod attachment on these species suggests that N. bairdii is the preferred host. Infestation by the isopod appears to result in erosion of host fish scales and tissue. We propose that S. infelix is an obligate associate of its host fish and should be considered parasitic.
Additional publication details
Association of Syscenus infelix (Crustacea: Isopoda: Aegidae) with benthopelagic rattail fishes, Nezumia spp. (Macrouridae), along the western North Atlantic continental slope