Interactive Parasitology

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Parasitic Amphipoda

By Tim Goater

Cyamus sp.

Compared to the Isopoda, Rhizocephala and Copepoda, relatively few parasitic amphipods have been described. Of these, among the most interesting are amphipods of the family Cyamidae (commonly called whale lice) which are ectoparasites of baleen whales.

Cyamids are unique among crustacean parasites in that they are unable to swim at any point during their life cycle. Young settle near their parents and masses of different-aged individuals may be seen clinging to the skin of their whale hosts.

Transmission to new hosts can occur during mating or when juvenile whales nurse from their infected mother.

One common genus, Cyamus sp.,
found on grey whales, is shown in
this photograph taken by John Ford.
Unlike most amphipods,
note that this amphipod species
is dorsoventrally flattened,
and possesses massive claws
on each of the huge legs,
all traits being clearly adaptive
for its ectoparasitic lifestyle.

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©1996 Centre for Curriculum & Professional Development
Last modified: May 4, 1996 nfm