Non-invasive investigation of Spironucleus vortens transmission in freshwater angelfish Pterophyllum scalare

Dis Aquat Organ. 2013 Sep 3;105(3):211-23. doi: 10.3354/dao02618.


Spironucleus vortens is a protozoan fish parasite of veterinary and economic importance in the ornamental aquaculture industry. Despite this, key aspects of the life cycle of this organism, including its mode of transmission, have not been fully elucidated. We developed a non-invasive method for quantifying S. vortens in freshwater angelfish, which was then used to investigate parasite transmission and aggregation within host populations. As previously observed for S. meleagridis and S. salmonis, motile S. vortens trophozoites were detected in host faeces using light microscopy. Species-level identification of these flagellates was confirmed using 16S rDNA PCR. Faecal trophozoite counts were significantly correlated with trophozoite counts from the posterior intestine, the primary habitat of the parasite. This novel finding allowed effective prediction of intestinal parasite load from faecal counts. Overall, faecal count data revealed that 20% of hosts harbour 83% of parasites, conforming to the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) of parasite aggregation with implications for parasite transmission. Trophozoites survived for ≥36 d outside the host within faeces and remained motile at low pH (comparable with that of angelfish stomach). No putative S. vortens cysts were observed in cultures or faecal samples. This calls into question the commonly accepted hypothesis that a protective cyst is required in the life cycle of S. vortens to facilitate transmission to a new host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cichlids*
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Fish Diseases / parasitology*
  • Fish Diseases / transmission
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / parasitology*
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / transmission
  • RNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S