Morphological variability and molecular identification of Uncinaria spp. (Nematoda: Ancylostomatidae) from grizzly and black bears: new species or phenotypic plasticity?

J Parasitol. 2015 Apr;101(2):182-92. doi: 10.1645/14-621.1. Epub 2014 Dec 30.


The hookworms Uncinaria rauschi Olsen, 1968 and Uncinaria yukonensis ( Wolfgang, 1956 ) were formally described from grizzly ( Ursus arctos horribilis) and black bears ( Ursus americanus ) of North America. We analyzed the intestinal tracts of 4 grizzly and 9 black bears from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada and isolated Uncinaria specimens with anatomical traits never previously documented. We applied morphological and molecular techniques to investigate the taxonomy and phylogeny of these Uncinaria parasites. The morphological analysis supported polymorphism at the vulvar region for females of both U. rauschi and U. yukonensis. The hypothesis of morphological plasticity for U. rauschi and U. yukonensis was confirmed by genetic analysis of the internal transcribed spacers (ITS-1 and ITS-2) of the nuclear ribosomal DNA. Two distinct genotypes were identified, differing at 5 fixed sites for ITS-1 (432 base pairs [bp]) and 7 for ITS-2 (274 bp). Morphometric data for U. rauschi revealed host-related size differences: adult U. rauschi were significantly larger in black bears than in grizzly bears. Interpretation of these results, considering the historical biogeography of North American bears, suggests a relatively recent host-switching event of U. rauschi from black bears to grizzly bears which likely occurred after the end of the Wisconsin glaciation. Phylogenetic maximum parsimony (MP) and maximum likelihood (ML) analyses of the concatenated ITS-1 and ITS-2 datasets strongly supported monophyly of U. rauschi and U. yukonensis and their close relationship with Uncinaria stenocephala (Railliet, 1884), the latter a parasite primarily of canids and felids. Relationships among species within this group, although resolved by ML, were unsupported by MP and bootstrap resampling. The clade of U. rauschi, U. yukonensis, and U. stenocephala was recovered as sister to the clade represented by Uncinaria spp. from otariid pinnipeds. These results support the absence of strict host-parasite co-phylogeny for Uncinaria spp. and their carnivore hosts. Phylogenetic relationships among Uncinaria spp. provided a framework to develop the hypothesis of similar transmission patterns for the closely related U. rauschi, U. yukonensis, and U. stenocephala.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Ancylostomatoidea / anatomy & histology
  • Ancylostomatoidea / classification*
  • Ancylostomatoidea / genetics
  • Animals
  • British Columbia
  • DNA, Helminth / chemistry
  • DNA, Helminth / isolation & purification
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / isolation & purification
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / chemistry
  • Female
  • Hookworm Infections / parasitology
  • Hookworm Infections / veterinary*
  • Intestines / parasitology
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary
  • Ursidae / parasitology*


  • DNA, Helminth
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer

Associated data

  • GENBANK/KJ026495
  • GENBANK/KJ026496
  • GENBANK/KJ026497
  • GENBANK/KJ026498
  • GENBANK/KJ026499
  • GENBANK/KJ026500
  • GENBANK/KJ026501
  • GENBANK/KJ026502
  • GENBANK/KJ026503
  • GENBANK/KJ026504
  • GENBANK/KJ026505
  • GENBANK/KJ026506
  • GENBANK/KJ026507
  • GENBANK/KJ026508
  • GENBANK/KJ026509
  • GENBANK/KJ026510
  • GENBANK/KJ026511
  • GENBANK/KJ026512
  • GENBANK/KJ026513
  • GENBANK/KJ026514
  • GENBANK/KJ026515
  • GENBANK/KJ026516
  • GENBANK/KJ026517
  • GENBANK/KJ026518
  • GENBANK/KJ026519