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Tallying Tapeworms: New Book Details Species, Hosts

Yorkeria izardi, a tapeworm from northern Australia that is hosted by an undescribed species of Chiloscyllium or bamboo shark.

Yorkeria izardi, a tapeworm from northern Australia that is hosted by an undescribed species of Chiloscyllium or bamboo shark. Researchers from UConn and the University of Kansas, together with collaborators from around the world, have counted almost 5,000 species of tapeworms to date, and estimate there to be as many as 20,000 species. (Caira Lab)

Before setting out to assemble a 400-page tome on tapeworms, it might be a good time for a gut check.

That’s what researchers from the University of Connecticut and University of Kansas have spent nearly a decade doing: collecting tapeworms from the digestive tracts of vertebrate species in 54 nations around the planet, on a scholarly mission to discover and describe cestodes, commonly called tapeworms.

More than 200 new species are described in the new book Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (2008-2017): Tapeworms from the Vertebrate Bowels of the Earth, co-edited by Janine Caira, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UConn, and Kirsten Jensen, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior curator at the Biodiversity Institute at KU. Jensen is a double UConn alumna, having earned her master of science degree in 1996, and her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2001.

In addition to documenting new species, the book uses historical data and new collections to begin to generate estimates of total global tapeworm diversity and assess interrelationships at multiple levels.

To date, the researchers have counted almost 5,000 species of tapeworms, and they estimate there to be as many as 20,000 species. The vast majority don’t necessarily cause harm, or harm hasn’t been documented, say the editors.

The animals that most commonly host tapeworms include birds, sharks, stingrays, shrews, and catfish – and their tapeworms tend not to bother them.

What makes this book such an amazing resource, the editors say, is that it addresses most aspects for each tapeworm order that a reader might want to know – such as in what species they are found, where they are found throughout the world, and what the organisms look like.

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Nos. 0818696 & 0818823). The book may be downloaded free of charge at http://tapeworms.uconn.edu/finalpub.html.

By Combined reports | By UConn Today


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