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Acanthocephalans, Thorny-Headed Worms FAQs

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Parasite -- 01/17/10
Dear Bob Fenner and friends of WetWebMedia,
<Hi Barb>
I have some pictures of a parasite that I believe emerged from one of my fish - I think my Vlamingi Naso Tang was the host. Two reasons make me think the Vlamingi was the host. First, it is the biggest fish in my tank and the worm is big. Also, the Vlamingi was exhibiting strange behavior recently. Just about a week ago, I was sitting for a while beside the tank, throwing kisses toward him when he opened his mouth really wide. It was like he wanted me to look in it! I mean I could look down this fish's throat! I was utterly mystified and fascinated. I think the worm may have come out of his mouth,
<Mmm, likely "the other end">
and this behavior was related to his attempt to his process of "upchucking" it.
A little history: I had a problem with Ich, and tried to treat it at first (Jan. 6) with PraziPro. After several days, and worsening Ich, I used Copper sulfate (Jan. 9) - in a dose that was prepared for my tank by Dan Gilboa, a marine biologist who now oversees the care of my tank. I found Dan through Bob's referral to Jim Stime. About a year ago, my angelfish was deathly ill and I needed the help of someone with expertise. Finally we found that the tank was riddled with flukes and PraziPro cured it.
<I recall>
Anyway, my tank is between 300 and 350 gallons and contains the Naso Vlamingi (about 12" long), a Purple Tang, a Cuban Hogfish, 2 Clownfish, 3 Damsels, a Half Moon Angelfish (about 7" long), a Bodianus bimaculatus, a Foxface (Lo Vulpinus), a Tuskfish, and a Bannerfish.
It is not a reef tank, and due to the use of copper a year ago (which was suggested by my previous aquarium service company), the live rock was presumed to be less "live". Much to my surprise, following the copper treatment this time, little red worms came out of the rock! So I guess I did a good enough job of removing the previous copper (with Poly filters) to allow life to return to the rocks.
<Apparently so>
Presently, the Ich seems to be under control - nearly all the fish, except the clowns, had been visibly infected. They all seem fine now, with appetites returned and no visible spots, except for a little something on one of the Angelfish's eye - so we aren't completely rid of it yet.
The worm came in two sections: first I found half of it at the bottom of the tank (see the picture with the clownfish - I photographed it before taking it out of the tank) on Thursday, which is 8 days after treatment with PraziPro and 5 days after treatment with copper. Then this morning, Saturday, the other end came out, right after I put food in the tank (I netted it before it sank and got some good pictures in bright light - see the second and third photos). I know the worm wasn't in the tank moments before the feeding, because I spent several minutes observing the fish before feeding them. I can't say for sure where it came from, but the Vlamingi's size, and the odd behavior of opening it's mouth very wide makes me think it was the host.
Any ideas about what it is?
<Mmm, yes. Appears to be an Acanthocephalan.... a thorny-headed worm... See Google re...>
When I found the first section I thought an earthworm got into the tank! Then, when the other section came out this morning, seeing that round head, it alarms me: what a sinister looking parasite! Is it a tape worm?
<Mmm, my bet is elsewhere>
The head looks like a seed pod with concentric raised points and is lighter in color. Altogether, counting both sections, it must have been at least 5 inches long.
Would be good to know what invaded my fish! If it has left eggs, I presume I need to dose with PraziPro one more time.
<A good choice>
Identifying it
would help calculate the possible gestation period - though I have no idea how these things reproduce.
Ever thanks for your feedback, advice, and support,
This is the first section that appeared Thursday (about 2 inches)'¦.
This is the second section (at least 3 inches) that appeared Saturday morning.
<Thank you for sending this along. Bob Fenner>

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