Background: Gastrotricha systematics is in a state of flux mainly due to the conflicts between cladistic studies base on molecular markers and the classical systematisation based on morphological traits. In sandy samples from Thailand, we found numerous macrodasyidan gastrotrichs belonging to an undescribed species of difficult taxonomic affiliation. The abundance and original nature of the specimens prompted us to undertake a deep survey of both morphological and molecular traits aiming at a reliable systematisation of the new taxon.
Methodology/principal findings: Using several microscopical techniques we investigated the external and internal anatomy, including the muscular and nervous systems of the new species. Additional specimens were used to obtain the 18S rRNA gene sequence; molecular data was analysed cladistically in conjunction with data from additional species belonging to the near complete Macrodasyida taxonomic spectrum. Specimens are vermiform, up to 806 μm in total length, and show a well-defined head equipped with peculiar leaf-like sensorial organs and a single-lobed posterior end. The adhesive apparatus includes anterior, ventrolateral, dorsal and posterior tubes. Pharynx is about 1/4 of the total length and shows pores at its posterior 3/4. Adult specimens exhibit maturing eggs and a bulky, muscular caudal organ, but do not show sperm nor the frontal organ. Musculature and nervous system organisation resemble the usual macrodasyidan plan; however, the somatic circular muscles of the intestinal region surround all other muscular components and a third FMRFamide-IR commissure ventral to the pharyngo-intestinal junction appear to be an autoapomorphic traits of the new species.
Conclusions/significance: While the anatomical characteristics of the Asian specimens appear so unique to grant the establishment of a new taxon, for which the name Thaidasys tongiorgii gen. et sp. nov. is proposed, the result of phylogenetic analyses based on the 18S rRNA gene unites the new genus with the family Macrodasyidae.