The uninformed often view parasites with disdain, disgust, and/or condemnation. These views however ignore the various ecological roles that parasites play. My colleagues and I are some of the lucky few who look at these organisms through ecological lenses and marvel at what we find.
As part of the ongoing research on the exotic invasive brown anole (Anolis sagrei) populations in Taiwan, we collected and examined some specimens for parasites. In addition to the brown anoles, we also examined specimens of Eutropis longicaudata, Eutropis multifasciata, Japalura polygonata xanthostoma, Japalura swinhonis, Plestiodon elegans, and Sphenomorphus indicus, that were collected opportunistically from Taiwan.
We recently reported on the parasites we recorded in 52 of the 91 lizards examined, and the infected individuals harbored one to three species of parasites. We identified the parasites as Cyrtosomum penneri, Kiricephalus pattoni, Mesocoelium sociale, Meteterakis govindi, Oochoristica chinensis, Oswaldocruzia japalurae, Parapharyngodon maplestonei, Pseudabbreviata yambarensis, Pseudoacanthocephalus bufonis, or Strongyluris calotis. We also recorded an unidentifiable acanthocephalan infective juvenile (cystacanth) and an unidentifiable larva of a cestode (sparganum).
Based on the relatively few parasite species recorded from A. sagrei in Taiwan, compared to the large number of parasites reported from A. sagrei throughout its native and introduced range, it is clear that these lizards have been liberated from many of their parasites.
The nematode, Cyrtosomum penneri, which was introduced into Taiwan along with A. sagrei, was a common parasite in the A. sagrei we examined. None were recorded in any of the other lizard species examined. This is most likely because these nematodes are transmitted from one host to another during copulation and appears to have a fair degree of host specificity, so the spread of C. penneri to native lizard species in Taiwan is suggested to be very unlikely. An interesting conclusion that can be drawn from the presence of C. penneri in specimens from both the southwestern and eastern populations of A. sagrei in Taiwan is that sexually mature lizards were introduced into these localities and that they most likely have a common founder population.
Our study did also confirm that the digenean, Mesocoelium sociale, and the pentastome, Kiricephalus pattoni are acquired parasite of A. sagrei in Taiwan. Unfortunately, although their infections can be expected to be detrimental to the A. sagrei host, their infection frequencies are relatively low in the A. sagrei populations in Taiwan, and thus have no observed significant impact on the population sizes.
Another interesting finding of our study was that even though the nematodes, Pseudabbreviata yambarensis and Strongyluris calotis, are very common in Japalura swinhonis, a species that is very often sympatric with A. sagrei in Taiwan and which also has a very similar diet as A. sagrei, they have not been found in any of the A. sagrei examined to date. This could be a result of an absence of transmission routes that could be specific to J. swinhonis and thus protect introduced species from the native parasites, or the host-specific limitations of the parasites prevent them from adapting to a new hosts, i.e., A. sagrei.
I would like to encourage everyone involved with research to include parasitological studies in their herpetological works to expand our understanding of host-parasite ecology.