"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum."
- Jonathan Swift

May 18, 2011

Clistobothrium carcharodoni

The parasite for today is found in a celebrity of sorts, the star of the film Jaws and its sequels - the famous Great White Shark. Unlike its host - which is well-known for being big in every sense - Clistobothrium carcharodoni is a tiny little worm measuring no more than a few millimeters in length. However, what they lack in size, they make up for in numbers, as over 2000 of them can be found in a single shark.

Tapeworms in general have complex life-cycles with many different hosts, and C. carcharodoni is no different. The life cycle of tapeworms which live in marine animals such as the great white shark are difficult to unravel. That is because the larvae lack many of the diagnostic characteristics which are used to identify the adult worms, so it is next to impossible to match the identity of the larvae with adults based on their morphologies. But with the advent of molecular techniques such mystery are becoming more commonly solved.

One of my former colleagues from Otago University - Haseeb Randhawa - was able to use key genetic markers to confirm that adult C. carcharodoni found in the gut of great white sharks were identical to tapeworm larvae which have previously been found in dolphins. These larval tapeworms congregate in the tail, back, belly and groin region of the dolphins - all parts preferred by the great white sharks as the finest cuts of meat from Flipper. His study confirmed the role of dolphins in completing the life-cycle of C. carcharodoni.

So while Flipper and Jaws are famous superstars which grab all the public attention, to a tapeworm like C. carcharodoni, all those aquatic celebrities simply serve as way stations in the cycle of life.

Randhawa, H. (2011) Insights using a molecular approach into the life cycle of a tapeworm infecting great white sharks. Journal of Parasitology 97: 275-280.

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