Pentastomids of wild snakes in the Australian tropics

Crystal Kelehear*, David M. Spratt, Denis O'Meally, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Pentastomids are endoparasites of the respiratory system of vertebrates, maturing primarily in carnivorous reptiles. Adult and larval pentastomids can cause severe pathology resulting in the death of their intermediate and definitive hosts. The study of pentastomids is a neglected field, impaired by risk of zoonoses, difficulties in species identification, and life cycle complexities. We surveyed wild snakes in the tropics of Australia to clarify which host species possess these parasites, and then sought to identify these pentastomids using a combination of morphological and molecular techniques. We detected pentastomid infections in 59% of the 81 snakes surveyed. The ubiquity of pentastomid infections in snakes of the Australian tropics sampled in this study is alarmingly high considering the often-adverse consequences of infection and the recognized zoonotic potential of these parasites. The pentastomids were of the genera Raillietiella and Waddycephalus and infected a range of host taxa, encompassing seven snake species from three snake families. All seven snake species represent new host records for pentastomids of the genera Raillietiella and/or Waddycephalus. The arboreal colubrid Dendrelaphis punctulatus and the terrestrial elapid Demansia vestigiata had particularly high infection prevalences (79% and 100% infected, respectively). Raillietiella orientalis infected 38% of the snakes surveyed, especially frog-eating species, implying a frog intermediate host for this parasite. Raillietiella orientalis was previously known only from Asian snakes and has invaded Australia via an unknown pathway. Our molecular data indicated that five species of Waddycephalus infect 28% of snakes in the surveyed area. Our morphological data indicate that features of pentastomid anatomy previously utilised to identify species of the genus Waddycephalus are unreliable for distinguishing species, highlighting the need for additional taxonomic work on this genus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-31
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • colubrid
  • elapid
  • python
  • Raillietiella orientalis
  • Waddycephalus
  • zoonosis


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