a1 El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Unidad Chetumal A.P. 424, Chetumal, Quintana Roo 77000, Mexico
a2 Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, University of Southern Mississippi, 703 East Beach Drive, Ocean Springs, MS 39566, USA
The tanaidaceans are among the most conspicuous and ecologically relevant benthic microcrustaceans in the marine realm but there are only a few records of species of tanaids associated with other marine organisms. During a long-term survey on the biology and distribution of the Caribbean manatee Trichechus manatus manatus Linnaeus in Mexican waters, parasites and epibionts were collected from 47 individuals that were captured for tagging in two bay systems. Well-established epibiotic communities of the tanaidacean Hexapleomera robusta (Moore) were found on eight of these animals; this tanaid crustacean formed patches of tubes adhered to the skin surface. Patches were distributed in different parts of the body surface but mainly along the backbone depression, the caudal zone, and on the lateral margins; in some instances they were related to clusters of barnacles. Highly significant differences of infestation rates were revealed between Chetumal Bay and Ascensión Bay, the latter representing better conditions (high salinity and hydrodynamism) for tanaid invasion and settlement on the manatee. It is speculated that the tanaid is a commensal; no visible damage was found in the host and its presence was not related to skin lesions. The tanaid probably captures suspended particles as the manatee feeds. This is the first confirmed record of a symbiotic association involving a tanaid and the Caribbean manatee. The tanaid species recorded (H. robusta) and the harpacticoid copepod Balaenophilus manatorum (Ortíz, Lalana & Torres), have both been recorded also as epibionts of sea turtles. The tanaid has been known from sea turtles for some time, but the copepod was first recorded from a manatee and was subsequently found on sea turtles a few years later.
(Received May 28 2007)
(Accepted September 11 2007)