Today's parasite is an acanthocephalan (thorny-headed worm) which lives in the Blackback Wrasse (Anampses neoguinaicus), a species of fish found on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The picture shows the anterior hook-lined proboscis that the worm uses to anchor itself firmly in the intestinal wall of the host. The photo is actually that of a male worm, and interestingly the males of this species have a pair of paddle-like protrusions at the posterior end of the body. The function of the protrusions are completely unknown. Because it is a purely male characteristic, it is possible that they play a role in sexual competition, though that is purely speculative. However, it has been well established that sexual competition is particularly fierce among the thorny-head worms - male acanthocephalans (including the species in today's post) are armed with a "cement gland" that secretes a substance that they use to block up the female's reproductive tract post-mating. This ensures that she cannot receive future sperm from rival males.
Pichelin, S. and Cribb, T.H. (2001) The status of the Diplosentidae (Acanthocephala: Palaeacanthocephala) and a new family of acanthocephalan from Australian wrasses (Pisces: Labridae). Folia Parasitologica 48: 289-303.
Contributed by Tommy Leung.