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Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências

Print version ISSN 0001-3765

An. Acad. Bras. Ciênc. vol.85 no.3 Rio de Janeiro Sept. 2013  Epub July 05, 2013 

Biological Sciences

Morphological and hematological studies ofTrypanosoma spp. infecting ornamental armored catfish from Guamá River-PA, Brazil

Rodrigo Y. Fujimoto1 

Mikaelle S. Neves2 

Rudã F.B. Santos2 

Natalino C. Souza2 

Márcia V.S. do Couto2 

Josiane N.S. Lopes2 

Daniel G. Diniz3 

Jorge C. Eiras4  5 

1Embrapa Tabuleiros Costeiros, Avenida Beira Mar, 3250, Caixa Postal 44, 49025-040 Aracaju, SE, Brasil

2Universidade Federal do Pará, Instituto de Estudos Costeiros, Rua Leandro Ribeiro, s/n, Aldeia, 68370-000 Bragança, PA, Brasil

3Universidade Federal do Pará, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Laboratório de Investigações em Neurodegeneração e Infecção, Hospital Universitário João de Barros Barreto, Rua dos Mundurucus, 4487, Guamá, 66073-005 Belém, PA, Brasil

4Departamento de Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre, s/n, 4169-007 Porto, Portugal

5CIIMAR, Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental/CIMAR, Universidade do Porto, Rua dos Bragas, 289, 4050-123 Porto, Portugal


A total of 281 specimens of freshwater armored ornamental fish species (Leporacanthicus galaxias, Lasiancistrus saetiger,Cochliodon sp., Hypostomus sp.,Pseudacanthicus spinosus, Ancistrus sp. andRineloricaria cf. lanceolata) were captured at the hydrological basin of Guamá River, Pará, Brazil. The infection by Trypanosoma spp. was inspected. The morphological and morphometric characterization of the parasites and the hematological parameters were determined. Leporacanthicus galaxias andPseudacanthicus spinosus presented 100% infection prevalence, and the other species showed a variable prevalence of infection. The parasites showed clearly different morphotypes and dimensions, and probably belong to different species. The hematological response to the infection varied with the host. Cochliodon sp. showed no differences between infected and not infected fish. In other species several modifications on some hematological parameters were found, but apparently without causing disease. It is emphasized the possibility of introduction of the parasites in new environments due to the artificial movements of these ornamental fish.

Key words: freshwater fish; hematological parameters; infection; Trypanosoma spp


Um total de 281 espécimes de peixes ornamentais de água doce - das espéciesLeporacanthicus galaxias, Lasiancistrus saetiger,Cochliodon sp., Hypostomus sp.,Pseudacanthicus spinosus, Ancistrus sp. eRineloricaria cf. lanceolata - foram capturados na bacia hidrográfica do rio Guamá, Pará, Brasil. A infecção porTrypanosoma spp. foi inspecionada. A caracterização morfológica e morfométrica dos parasitas e os parâmetros hematológicos foram determinados. Todas as espécies foram infectadas e todos os espécimes deLeporacanthicus galaxias e Pseudacanthicus spinosusestavam parasitados. As outras espécies mostraram uma prevalência variável da infecção. Os parasitas mostraram claramente morfotipos e dimensões diferentes, e provavelmente, pertencem a espécies diferentes. A resposta hematológica à infecção variou de acordo com o hospedeiro. EmCochliodon sp. não houve diferença entre peixes infectados e não infectados. Em outras espécies diversas modificações em alguns parâmetros hematológicos foram encontrados, mas aparentemente sem causar doença. Ressalta-se a possibilidade de introdução de parasitas em novos ambientes devido aos movimentos artificiais destes peixes ornamentais.

Palavras-Chave: peixes de água doce; parâmetros hematológicos; infecção; Trypanosoma spp


The northeast of Pará State, in Brazil, especially the hydrographic basin of Guamá River, is an important area for the fishery of ornamental freshwater fish. This is due to the facility of reaching the fishing grounds and to the proximity of Belém, from where the fish are exported to other countries. According to Torres (2007), the capture of ornamental armored fish represents up to 55% of the monthly income to fishermen. Most of these fish are exported, but a sanitary inspection of the specimens is not performed. Therefore, the dissemination risk of parasites and diseases is high.

There are some observations on the parasites of ornamental fish in Brazil, mostly about ectoparasites (Garcia et al. 2009,Piazza et al. 2006, Prang 2007, Tavares-Dias et al. 2010), and some studies deal with the infection by Trypanosoma spp. These parasites may not harmful to the fish hosts (Untergasser 1989), or cause anemia, damage of the hematopoietic tissues and, finally, the death of the fish (Noga 1996). Massive infections in some hosts (over 105 specimens /mm3), likeCyprinus carpio and Carassius auratus, may cause anemia, anorexia and ascites (Paperna 1996).

According to 11 Eiras et al. (2010, 2012), there are at least 62 nominal species of trypanosomes infecting freshwater fish in Brazil, a number of them parasitizing armored fish like Hypostomus spp. and Pterodorasspp. (D'Agosto et al. 1985, Lopes et al. 1991, Bara et al. 1985, Fróes et al. 1979). It must be stressed out that a number of these parasites were identified only with basis on morphology and morphometry, and in most of the times assuming specificity in parasitization.

In this paper we report the infection of 7 different species of ornamental armored freshwater fish from the Guamá River by Trypanosoma spp. The morphology and morphometry of each form is described, and the prevalence, abundance and mean intensity of infection is reported. Furthermore, the hematological characteristics of the hosts are referred to.


A total of 281 armored ornamental specimens were captured at Guamá River, including 41 Leporacanthicus galaxias (Isbrüker and Nijssen 1989) (common name: acari pinima), 48 Lasiancistrus saetiger (Armbruster 2005) (acari canoa), 35 Cochliodon sp. (acari pleco), 10Pseudacanthicus spinosus (Castelnau 1855) (acari assacu), 57Rineloricaia cf. lanceolata (acari loricaria), 42Hypostomus sp. (acari picoto), and 48 Ancistrussp. (acari ancistrus).

Immediately after capture, a blood sample was taken from the caudal vein with syringes coated with 10% EDTA. After blood sampling the fish were measured (total and standard length) and inspected for ectoparasites, and integument or gill lesions. The following blood parameters were determined: glucose (mg/dL) using the automatic meter Prestige IQ 50, hematocrit (Ht, at 13,000 rpm during 3 minutes), total plasma protein (g/dL) using a Quimis refractometer, total hemoglobin (HB, g/dL) using a Celmi 500 and Celmi 550 meter, and number of erythrocytes per mm3 counted in Neubauer chamber.

Blood smears were air dried and stained with May Grunwald Giemsa modified byRosenfeld (1947). The smears were used for leukocyte differential counting. The determination of mean corpuscular volume (MCV = Ht / Er x 10, fentoliter), mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH = Hb / Er x 10, picograms), and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC= Hb / Ht x 100, g/dL) were recorded according toVallada (1999).

Blood smears and hematocrit were also used for determining the presence of trypanosomes. In the positive samples the mean intensity of infection was determined indirectly relating the number of parasites with the amount of 1,000 erythrocytes (modified from Ranzani-Paiva 1995 method of differential counting of white blood cells). The parasites were photographed using a digital camera, and the photographs were used latter (employing the software Motic Images Advanced 3.0) to determine the cell characteristics: total length (TL), maximum width of the body (W), nucleus length (NL) and width (NW), distance between the middle of nucleus and anterior (DNA) and posterior (DNP) extremities, length of the free flagellum (FF) and number of folds of the undulating membrane (UM). With the data obtained, the nuclear index (IN) according to D'Agosto and Serra-Freire (1993) and Gu et al. (2006) was calculated.

All the hematological results, as well as the morphometric ones were submitted to analysis of variance (BioEstt 4.0 programme). For F significant values, it was employed the Tukey test (5% of probability) to compare the means values. For the analysis of the variance of folds of the undulating membrane, it was employed the Kruskal-Wallis method for non-parametric data. It was also used the normality test with basis in the deviations values to verify the existence of outliers which were eliminated.


The species Pseudacanthius spinosus and Leporacanthicus galaxias presented 100% of prevalence of infection, the other hosts showed a prevalence value varying between 22.6% (Cochliodon sp.) and 58.3% (Lasanciastrus sp.) (Table I). Therefore, most of the fishes were infected, and a high proportion of them were also infected by unidentified leeches. However, some of the specimens infected with leeches were not parasitized by trypanosomes.

TABLE I Total weight (W), standard (SL) and total length (TL) of fish, prevalence of infection (P), mean intensity of infection (MI), abundance of infection (AB), and hematological parameters in infected and uninfected fish. Figures highlighted in ictalicized bold indicate significant differences between infected and uninfected fish; Ns: not significant. 

Cochliodon sp. Ancistrus sp. Lasiancistrus saetiger.
Not infected Infected Not infected Infected Not infected Infected
W 22.0±5.73ns 21.8±12.03ns 39.2±13.98ns 26.6±5.46ns 28.4±15.68ns 32.7±15.23ns
SL 9.2±1.90ns 9.8±1.77ns 11.2±1.43ns 11.4±0.30ns 10.1±1.76ns 9.8±1.99ns
TL 12.2±1.02ns 12.9±1.99ns 13.9±2.07ns 14.1±0.81ns 11.4±2.30ns 11.4±3.50ns
P _ 26.66 _ 20 _ 58.3
MI _ 1 _ 1 _ 1
AB _ 0.26 _ 0.2 _ 0.58
GLUC 92.4±10.80ns 42.7±11.74ns 72.4±28.72ns 95±13.85ns 55.2±18.37ns 44.1±8.75ns
HT 20.6±10.76ns 21.8±15.56ns 20.4±10.46ns 14.3±8.96ns 17.8±7.49 b 28.0±11.69 a
TPP 7.8±2.45ns 8.4±3.16ns 4.6±1.69ns 3.0±1.17ns 8.9±2.30 a 6.5±2.53b
HB 6.8±4.20ns 5.2.54ns 8.9±5.54ns 9.3±5.95ns 9.23±4.52ns 9.7±4.97ns
ER 0.3±0.46ns 0.2±0.18ns 0.6±16.99ns 0.6±0.26ns 0.3±0.32 b 1.3±0.06 a
MCV 1097.9±286.90ns 568.9±250.54ns 373.7±156.62ns 289.2±264.15ns 845.8±786.60ns 230.9±99.29ns
MCH 270.8±175.63ns 211.9±108.40ns 170.5±107.62ns 162.3±87.09ns 1106.4±1917.10ns 71.6±37.18ns
CMCH 38.6±29.07ns 35.7±2.94ns 41.3±17.67 b 155.4±216.18 a 63.4±39.44 a 29.4±10.97 b
LYM 56.1±20.65ns 47.2±20.12ns 75.6±19.56ns 81.3±2.51ns 94.4±13.23 64.4±15.33
NEU 39.5±21.16ns 48.2±21.29ns 19.9±16.89ns 11.3±1.52ns 4.0±9.6 28.0±13.8
MON 4.2±1.48ns 4.5±2.51ns 3.2±3.24ns 7.3±3.21ns 1.2±0.8 7.5±4.4
Hypostomus sp. Rineloricaria cf. lanceolata
Infected Infected Not infected Infected Not infected Infected
W 28.4±14.6 25.2±27.9 21.4±8.76ns 23.9±6.05ns 19.4±6.88ns 13.0±5.38ns
SL 10.1±2.0 9.5±2.7 8.7±1.33ns 9.1±0.96ns 15.3±2.10ns 15.5±2.53ns
TL 12.9±2.6 12.6±2.7 11.0±1.53ns 11.±1.51ns 18.0±2.80ns 17±4.69ns
P 100 100 _ 20 _ 46.6
MI 1.1 1.2 _ 1.3 _ 0.5
AB 1.1 1.2 _ 0.2 _ 0.2
GLIC 60.2±27.8 27.6±21.6 62.3±15.29ns 48.6±8.5ns 102.4±30.04a 59.5±22.12b
HT 31.6±13.2 10.1±5.9 16.9±7.01ns 21±7.54ns 16.0±6.76ns 17.5±3.93ns
TPP 8.6±3.4 6.3±2.6 8.2±2.18ns 10.3±0.91ns 9.0±2.00ns 9.0±1.85ns
HB 10.9±3.8 5.7±3.2 9.9±5.09ns 9.7±0.92ns 9.5±4.73ns 4.9±2.86ns
ER 0.4±0.3 0.2±0.2 0.6±0.30ns 0.4±0.20ns 0.6±0.34ns 0.2±0.18ns
MCV 843.7±661.4 1887.0±180.6 693.7±740.41ns 490.9±167.64ns 557.4±848.57ns 1070.4±1073.02ns
MCH 353.6±348.3 1541.2±145.1 342.1±354.24ns 246.2±108.77ns 199.5±1066.66ns 216.5±110.35ns
CMCH 37.4±17.7 62.7±17.2 58.8±24.71ns 50.4±18.28ns 58.3±47.05a 26.4±11.84b
LYM 27.3±7.8 62.8±8.7 29.4±5.85a 14.66±9.23b 80.2±7.71a 64.7±9.46b
NEU 68.9±8.5 28.8±6.9 67.5±5.61ns 76±15.09ns 14.6±7.16b 25±5.29a
MON 3.7±1.9 8.4±2.6 3±1.75ns 9.3±7.57ns 4.3±3.25b 10.2±4.27a

Abbreviations: GLUC, glucose (mg/dl), HT, hematocrit, TPP, total plasma proteins g/dl, HB, hemoglobin g/dl, ER, number of erythrocytes (number of cells x 106/mm3); MCV, mean corpuscular volume (fentoliter); MCH, median corpuscular hemoglobin (pg); CMCH, concentration of the median corpuscular hemoglobin in g/dl; LYM, total number of lymphocytes; NEUT, neutrophils (%); MON, monocytes (%).

Hypostomus sp. presented the highest intensity of infection (1.3 parasites by 1,000 erythrocytes), and Rineloricaria cf. lanceolatashowed the lowest one (0.5). The other species presented intermediate values (Table I). Pseudacanthicus spinosus had the highest abundance level, and Rineloricaria cf. lanceolata the smallest one, while the other species presented intermediate values (Table I).

The morphology (Fig. 1) of the parasites varied. In general, they had a rounded anterior extremity and a tapered posterior one. In some cases both the extremities were slightly tapered. The nuclei were most of the times oval-shaped, sometimes almost circular, in some cells occupying all the cell width. The kinetoplast was mostly rounded, in most of cases having a sub-terminal location. Usually the small part of the cell located before the kinetoplast was difficult to observe clearly due to poor staining of this part of the body.

Figure 1 Types of Trypanosomes found in some host species (A , Cochliodon sp.; B, Lasiancistrus saetiger; C, Leporacanthicus galaxia; D, Pseudacanthicus spinosus; E, Cochliodon sp.). Note the very different morphotypes especially concerning the width of the body and the length of free flagellum. Magnification: 1,000. 

The undulating membrane was well defined, developing all over the body length, or about half of the length. In some cases it was observed only near the extremity, presenting only two folds in the specimens with smaller values of body width. The undulating membrane was especially evident in Cochliodon sp., presenting in this host more folds. The cytoplasm varied from basophilic to eosinophilic. The free flagellum was sometimes hard to distinguish because it was not so intensely stained, and its length varied between short and long.

There was a great morphometrical variation in the several characteristics as it can be seen in Table II, and several features presented a great variation depending from the host species.

TABLE II Morphometric characteristics (average plus standard deviation, figures in micrometers) of Trypanosoma spp. infecting armored fish. 

Cochliodon sp. Pseudacanthicus
Hypostomus sp. Lasiancistrus
Ancistrus sp. Rineloricaria
cf. lanceolata
TL 52.1±3.6 a 58.0±9.4 a 38.1±4.3 ab 47.4±13.0 abc 44.9±5.7 abc 38.1±7.7 c 47.5±4.3 c
W 5.2±1.1 a 3.9±0.6 b 3.4±0.3 bc 4.9±1.3 bcd 5.3±0.7 bcd 3.5±0.9 d 3.8±1.1 d
NL 5.9±1.1 a 6.0±1.4 a 4.8±0.9 a 3.9±0.7 ab 5.4±1.1 ab 4.2±0.8 bd 5.4±0.9 d
NW 4.6±1.2 a 3.5±0.6 b 3.2b±0.4 bc 4.4±1.4 bc 5.0±0.7 bc 3.3±0.9 c 3.7±1.0 c
DNA 26.1±3.2 a 32.0±2.5 ab 21.2ab±4.6 ab 27.1±11.3 ab 25.8±5.0 ab 23.2±2.6 b 22.4±3.5 b
DNP 24.8±4.7 a 26.3±5.4 a 15.5b±4.0 ab 20.3±4.3 ab 19.3±5.4 abc 15.1±5.7 c 24.6±2.8 c
UM 7.9±1.9 ab 8.7±1.5 a 3.5cd±0.9 abc 6±1.4 abcd 5.7±2.4 abcde 3.6±1.3 e 2.8±1.1 e
FF 5.6±1.4 a 20.9±13.0 ab 4.0±1.5 bc 6.9±2.1 bc 2.3±0.6 bc 13.5±9.2 c 2.1±0.8 c
NI 0.9±0.1 a 0.8±0.1 b 0.6±0.2 b 0.8±0.3 b 0.7±0.2 b 0.7±0.3 b 1.1±0.1 b

Abbreviations: TL, total length; W, width; NL, nucleus length; NW, nucleus width; DNA, distance from the nucleus till the anterior extremity; DNP, distance from the nucleus till the posterior extremity; UM, number of folds of the undulating membrane; FF, length of the free flagellum; NI, nuclear index. Values followed by different letters in the same line indicate significant differences (5% probability in Tukey test).

The hematological study showed the infection caused varied effects on the hosts. Interestingly, in Cochliodon sp. no hematological alterations were found between infected and not infected specimens. In Ancistrus sp. and Hypostomus sp. the repercussions were minimal - the first specimens showed only a pronounced increase of the concentration of mean corpuscular hemoglobin, and the second revealed increase in the percentage of lymphocytes. InRineloricaria cf. lanceolata the infection caused decrease of mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration and glucose, and modifications in the white blood cells (decrease of lymphocytes and neutrophils and increase in monocytes). Finally, Lasiancistrus saetiger showed increase in the hematocrit and erythrocytes, and decrease of total plasma proteins and of mean corpuscular hemoglobin.


The first conclusion to be drawn from our results is that the prevalence of the infection varied considerably with the host species, in two of them (L. galaxias and P. spinosus) reaching a prevalence of 100%. It is known that these parasites are transmitted by the bite of leeches. Therefore, the facility of infection by leeches promotes the parasitization by trypanosomes, and the behavior of the fish may contribute to a higher or lesser probability of leech infection. The armored fish have a benthic behavior that facilitates the infection by leeches, and high values of infection by trypanosomes are not uncommon. D'Agosto and Serra-Freire (1990) reported 100% of prevalence forTrypanosoma chagasi and T. guaiabensisinfecting the armored Hypostomus punctatus from lake Açú at Rio de Janeiro. Other reports on infections in several species of armored fish showed a high variability on the prevalence and intensity of infection values (Fróes et al. 1978, 1979, Lopes et al. 1989, Ribeiro et al. 1989, Eiras et al. 1989, 1990). Considering these facts, and the fact that apparently the probability of leech infection in the fishes from our sample was the same for all the host species, it is possible to conclud that the resistance of the fish to the infection varies with the fish species.

There are in Brazil at least 62 species of trypanosomes described from freshwater fish, and at least 28 from those were described from armored fish (Eiras et al. 2010). Most of the descriptions were done assuming a strict specificity of infection, and a form observed in a new host was considered a new species (Thatcher 2006). Today it is recognized that strict specificity may be an exception but not a role, and it is urgent to review the Brazilian fish trypanosomes as it was done with trypanosomes from Africa performed by Baker (1960), resulting in a substantial reduction of the number of blood flagellate species. Besides, one confusing factor is the variability in length during infection and the existence of pleomorphic species (Gibson et al. 2005).

Our data do not allow the identification of the parasite species and, for the reasons described above, a comparison with the Brazilian species of trypanosomes would be useless. The identification based solely on morphological features is usually not possible, and the absence of specific infections, at least in most of the cases, do not allow a positive identification without the aid of molecular tools, and characterization of the development of the parasite within the vector, which were not considered in the present research. However, it is highly probable that we face different species due to the so pronounced differences in morphology and morphometry of the parasites, as depicted in Figure 1 andTable II. It is the authors' intent to pursue this study in the future in order to elucidate this question.

According to the hematological data obtained, it seems that some host species (Lasiancistrus saetiger and Rineloricaria cf. lanceolata) were more affected than others (Ancistrussp. and Hypostomus sp.), while Cochliodon sp. apparently had the hematological parameters not altered by the infection. Therefore, it can be concluded that some hosts adapted better than others to the infection.

Some results of other authors for different freshwater hosts species show results sometimes similar to ours: anemia in Carassius auratus infected with Trypanosoma danilewskyi (Dyková and Lom 1979), inBarilius blendelisis parasitized byTrypanosoma sp. (Rauthan et al. 1995), and in Cyprinus carpio infected with T. borreli (Clauss et al. 2008). Other authors reported minimal changes in blood parameters for different species of parasites and hosts, and Aguilar et al. (2005) consider that T. granulosumhas only minor effects in the host Anguilla anguilla. According to Lom (1979), "it seems, on the evidence obtained from observations of natural infections, that species of this genus live in a more or less balanced state with their host".

In summary, we conclude that the armored ornamental freshwater fish species studied are highly infected by trypanosomes (representing most probably different species) and react differently to the infection as showed by the hematological observations.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasize the risk of dissemination of these parasites, due to the artificial movements of the hosts, in spite of the need of a vector to transmit the parasites to uninfected fish. This problem is especially important because the infection is not detectable by visual inspection of the fish.


Paticipation of J.C. Eiras on this research was partially supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the COMPETE - Operational Competitiveness Programme and national funds through FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, under the project "PEst-C/MAR/LA0015/2011


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Received: October 30, 2012; Accepted: February 27, 2013

Correspondence to: Daniel Guerreiro Diniz

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