by Piter Kehoma Boll
Everybody knows salmons, especially the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, and many of us love to eat this fish species as well. However, I’m not here to talk about the Atlantic salmon itself, but to talk about one of its closes companions and antagonists, the salmon fluke.
Scientifically known as Gyrodactylus salaris, the salmon fluke is a flatworm of the clade Monogenea, a group of ectoparasites that infect mainly fish. As its name suggests, the salmon fluke infects salmons, such as the Atlantic salmon, and closely related species, such as the rainbow trout Onchorhynchus mykiss.
The salmon fluke was first discovered in 1952 in salmons from a Baltic population that were kept in a Swedish laboratory. Measuring about 0.5 mm in length, the salmon fluke attaches to the skin of the fish and is too small to be seen with the naked eye. The attachment happens using a specialized organ full of tiny hooks, called haptor, located at the posterior end of the body. When feeding, the salmon fluke attaches its mouth to the surface of the fish using special glands in its head and everts its pharynx through the mouth, releasing digestive enzymes on the fish, dissolving its skin, which is then ingested. The wounds caused by the parasite’s feeding activity can lead to secondary infections that can seriously affect the salmon’s health.
Different from most parasitic flatworms, monogeneans such as the salmon fluke have a single host. During reproduction, the hermanophrodite adults release a ciliated larva called oncomiracidium that infects new fish. A single fluke can originate an entire population because it is able to self fertilize.
During the 1970’s, a massive infection by the salmon fluke occurred in Norway following the introduction of infected salmon strains. This led to a catastrophic decrease in the salmon populations in the country, affecting many rivers. Due to this evident threat to such a commercially important species, several techniques have been developed to control and kill the parasite. The first developed methods included the use of pesticides in the rivers, but those ended up having a negative effect on many species, including the salmons themselves. Currently, newer and less aggressive methods have been used.
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Jansen, P. A., & Bakke, T. A. (1991). Temperature-dependent reproduction and survival of Gyrodactylus salaris Malmberg, 1957 (Platyhelminthes: Monogenea) on Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.). Parasitology, 102(01), 105. doi:10.1017/s0031182000060406
Johnsen, B. O., & Jenser, A. J. (1991). The Gyrodactylus story in Norway. Aquaculture, 98(1-3), 289–302. doi:10.1016/0044-8486(91)90393-l
Meinilä, M., Kuusela, J., Ziętara, M. S., & Lumme, J. (2004). Initial steps of speciation by geographic isolation and host switch in salmonid pathogen Gyrodactylus salaris (Monogenea: Gyrodactylidae). International Journal for Parasitology, 34(4), 515–526. doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2003.12.002
Wikipedia. Gyrodactylus salaris. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrodactylus_salaris >. Access on December 26, 2018.