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Brazilian Journal of Biology

Print version ISSN 1519-6984

Braz. J. Biol. vol.74 no.4 São Carlos Nov. 2014 


Helminths and Pentastomida of two synanthropic gecko lizards, Hemidactylus mabouia and Phyllopezus pollicaris, in an urban area in Northeastern Brazil

Helmintos e pentastomídeos de dois lagartos sinantrópicos, Hemidactylus mabouia e Phyllopezus pollicaris, de uma area urbana da região Nordeste do Brasil

JGG Sousaa 

SV Britob 

RW Ávilac 

DA Telesa 

JA Araujo-Filhoc 

AAM Teixeiraa 

LA Anjosd 

WO Almeidae  * 

aPrograma de Pós-Graduação em Bioprospecção Molecular, Departamento de Química Biológica, Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA, Rua Cel. Antônio Luiz, 1161, Campus do Pimenta, CEP 63105-000, Crato, CE, Brazil

bPrograma de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Biológicas (Zoologia), Departamento de Sistemática e Ecologia – DSE, Centro de Ciências Exatas e da Natureza – CCEN, Universidade Federal da Paraíba – UFPB, Cidade Universitária, Campus I, CEP 58059-900, João Pessoa, PB, Brazil

cDepartamento de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA, Rua Cel. Antônio Luiz, 1161, Campus do Pimenta, CEP 63105-000, Crato, CE, Brazil

dDepartamento de Biologia e Zootecnia, Faculdade de Engenharia de Ilha Solteira, Universidade Estadual Paulista – UNESP, Passeio Monção, 226, CEP 15385000, Ilha Solteira, SP, Brazil

eDepartamento de Química Biológica, Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA, Rua Cel. Antônio Luiz, 1161, Campus do Pimenta, CEP 63105-000, Crato, CE, Brazil


Helminths and pentastomids were examined in exotic Hemidactylus mabouia and native Phyllopezus pollicaris lizards, living synanthropically in an urban area in the municipality of Crato, Ceará state, northeastern Brazil. A total of 194 lizards were collected, being 76 specimens of H. mabouia e 118 specimens of P. pollicaris. Six parasite species were found infecting H. mabouia: the cestode Oochoristica sp., the nematodes Parapharyngodon sceleratus, Physaloptera retusa, Physalopteroides venancioi, and Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis and the pentastomid Raillietiella mottae; while four parasite species were found associated with P. pollicaris: Oochoristica sp., P. sceleratus, P. retusa, and S. oxkutzcabiensis. Three new host records were reported: P. retusa infecting H. mabouia and P. retusa and Oochoristica sp. infecting P. pollicaris. About 75% of the parasites species found were shared by both lizards. Moreover, H. mabouia showed greater diversity than P. pollicaris (6 versus 4 species), while P. pollicaris had higher intensity of infection than H. mabouia (1536 versus 121 specimens).

Key words: parasites; lizards; Pentastomida; Nematoda; Cestoda


Helmintos e pentastomídeos foram analisados em lagartos exóticos Hemidactylus mabouia e nativos Phyllopezus pollicaris, vivendo sinantropicamente em uma área urbana da cidade de Crato, Estado do Ceará, Nordeste do Brasil. Foram coletados 194 lagartos, sendo 76 espécimes de H. mabouia e 118 de P. pollicaris. Seis espécies de parasitas foram encontradas infectando H. mabouia: Oochoristica sp., Parapharyngodon sceleratus, Physaloptera retusa, Physalopteroides venancioi, Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis e Raillietiella mottae; enquanto em P. pollicaris foram encontradas quatro espécies: Oochoristica sp., P. sceleratus, P. retusa, and S. oxkutzcabiensis. Três novos registros de hospedeiros são reportados: P. retusa em H. mabouia e Oochoristica sp. e P. retusa infectando P. pollicaris. Cerca de 75% dos parasitas encontrados foram compartilhados pelas espécies de lagartos. Ainda, H. mabouia apresentou maior diversidade de parasitas do que P. pollicaris (6 espécies versus 4), enquanto P. pollicaris possui maior intensidade de infecção media do que H. mabouia (1.536 versus 121).

Palavras-Chave: parasitas; lagartos; Pentastomida; Nematoda; Cestoda


The lizard Hemidactylus mabouia (Moreau de Jonnès, 1818) is an African species, successfully established and widely distributed throughout South, Central (except Jamaica) and North America (Rocha et al., 2011). In the latter, H. mabouia rapidly colonized large areas and dislocated two other exotic congeners: Hemidactylus garnotti Duméril and Bibron, 1836 and Hemidactylus turcicus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Kluge, 1969; Vanzolini, 1978; Lawson et al., 1991; Howard et al., 2001; Anjos and Rocha, 2008). Hemidactylus mabouia is commonly encountered in or near anthropic environments in Brazil (Vanzolini, 1978; Rocha et al., 2011) as well as in natural environments in Amazon, Atlantic rainforest, Cerrado (Brazilian savanna), Caatinga (semi-arid) and Restinga (sandy coastal) biomes and some coastal islands (Vanzolini, 1978; Vanzolini et al., 1980; Araujo, 1991; Vitt, 1995; Rocha et al., 2000; Rocha et al., 2002). Invasion by H. mabouia are mainly reported in the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bahia, Ceará and some continental islands (Rocha et al., 2011). This nocturnal lizard is a generalist sit-and-wait predator that feeds mainly on arthropods such as spiders, insect larvae, and termites (Vitt, 1995; Rocha and Anjos, 2007).

Phyllopezus pollicaris (Spix, 1825) is a nocturnal lizard (Vanzolini et al., 1980) native to South America, distributed from northeastern Brazil to Paraguay. Is inhabitant of rock outcrops, but also commonly found in human habitations (Vanzolini et al., 1980; Vitt, 1995). This lizard is also a typical sit-and-wait opportunist that feeds on arthropods (principally crickets, ants, termites, spiders, insect larvae, and beetles) (Vitt, 1995; Recorder et al., 2012).

The macro-endoparasitic faunas associated with H. mabouia in Old and New Worlds have been extensively studied and include species of Acantocephala, Cestoda, Nematoda, Pentastomida, and Trematoda (Rodrigues, 1970, 1986, 1994; Simonsen and Sarda, 1985; Moravec et al., 1987; Bursey et al., 1997; Rodrigues et al., 1990; Anjos et al., 2005, 2007). On the other hand, information about the parasite fauna associated with P. pollicaris, is rather scarce, and only three species of Nematoda and one Pentastomida are currently known (Almeida et al., 2008; Ávila and Silva, 2010; Ávila et al., 2012).

The present study: (i) describes and identifies the macro endoparasitic fauna infecting the exotic lizard species H. mabouia and the native P. pollicaris that inhabit human habitations synanthropically, and (ii) compared the infection rates of host species.

2.Material and Methods

Lizard specimens were collected between March and November/2011 in human habitations in the municipality of Crato (07°14′ S and 39°24′ W), Ceará State, semi-arid region of northeastern Brazil. The regional climate is predominantly tropical, hot, and semi-arid (temperatures varying from 20 °C to 34 °C, and average annual varying from 24 °C to 26°C) (IPECE, 2011).

Lizards were collected manually, euthanized with lethal doses of lidocaine 2%, fixed in 10% formaldehyde, and preserved in 70% ethanol. The snout-vent length (SVL) of each lizard was measured using a digital caliper (± 0.01 mm). Lizards were weighed by Pesola® spring scales (precision: 0.1g). Host specimens were deposited in the Coleção Herpetológica of the Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA. The body cavities of the lizards were exposed by making a longitudinal incision from the neck to the cloaca, and their lungs and digestive tracts were removed and examined for endoparasites using a stereomicroscope. For identification, pentastomids were cleared using Hoyer's solution; nematodes were cleared in lactophenol; and the cestodes were stained with Carmim, dehydrated in an increasing alcohol series and cleared in creosote. The cestodes, nematodes and pentastomids were mounted on temporary slides for identification. Voucher parasite specimens were subsequently deposited in the Coleção parasitological at URCA.

Prevalence (lizards infected/total number of lizards examined x 100), mean intensity of infection (number of parasites/number of infected hosts) were calculated according to Bush et al. (1997). Sorensen's similarity index (range 0 = no similarity, to 1.0 = identical) were calculated for the communities of parasites infecting H. mabouia and P. pollicaris, not considering juvenile parasites.

A Mann Whitney U test was performed to determine differences in the size (SVL) of male and female hosts and check for differences in parasite abundance between the sexes. To check variations in prevalence and intensity of infection between the two species of lizards we used a Z test and a T test, respectively.


A total of 194 lizards were collected: 76 specimens of H. mabouia, including 11 males (SVL= 56.71 ± 9.68 mm), 29 females (SVL= 57 ± 6.74 mm), and 36 juveniles (SVL= 31.5 ± 5.39 mm); and 118 specimens of P. pollicaris, including 44 males (SVL= 66 ± 10.82 mm), 64 females (SVL= 66.5 ± 9.5 mm), and 10 juveniles (SVL=31 ± 3.05 mm).

Males and females of H. mabouia did not differ in SVL (U=38; P>0.05), body masses ( U=36.5; P>0.05), or mean intensity of infection (U=49; P>0.05). Likewise, no significant differences were observed between SVL of P. pollicaris adult males and females (U=493.5; P>0.05), or mean intensity of infection (U=513.5; Zajusted=1.54; P>0.05). However, males have higher body mass (U= 471.5; P≤ 0.04). On the other hand, both SVL and body mass of adult specimens of H. mabouia and P. pollicaris differed significantly (U= 260.5; P< 0.001/ U=229.5; P< 0.001, respectively).

Six parasite species were found infecting H. mabouia: the cestode Oochoristica sp., the nematodes Parapharyngodon sceleratus Travassos, 1923, Physaloptera retusa Rudolphi, 1819, Physalopteroides venancioi Lent, Freitas, & Proença, 1946, and Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis (Chitwood, 1938) and the pentastomid Raillietiella mottae Almeida, Freitas and Lopes, 2008, (Table 1). Of the 76 individuals examined of H. mabouia, 26 were infected with at least one parasite species (overall prevalence 34.2%). The prevalence of adult host males was 63.4%, and adult females was 58.6%; only two juvenile lizards were infected (prevalence of 5.6%). The overall intensity of infection was 6.76 ± 14.07.

Table 1. Epidemiological data for Hemidactylus mabouia and Phyllopezus pollicaris from an urban area in Crato, Ceará state, Northeastern, Brazil. For each parasite the prevalence (P, in %), intensity of infection (mean ± standard deviation), range and the sites of infection (SI) are given. S, stomach; SI,small intestine; LI, large intestine; LU, lung. 

Parasite H. mabouia (n=76) P. pollicaris (n=118)
P (%) Int. infection Range Site P (%) Int. infection Range Site
Oochoristica sp. 1.31 1 1 SI 2.54 8 ± 2 6-10 SI
Parapharyngodon sceleratus 22.3 1.87 ± 1.2 1-4 LI 10.2 2.86 ± 1.84 1-7 LI
Physaloptera retusa 3.94 23.66 ± 34.12 2-67 S, SI 2.54 4.33 1-10 S
Physalopteroides venancioi 1.31 1 1 S - - - -
Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis 5.26 14.5 ± 11.9 1-28 LI 50 23.77 ± 24.95 1-128 LI
Raillietiella mottae 2.63 4 4 LU - - - -

Four parasite species were found associated with P. pollicaris: Oochoristica sp., Parapharyngodon sceleratus, Physaloptera retusa, and Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis (Table 1). Of the 118 specimens of P. pollicaris collected, 58 were infected with one or more parasite (overall prevalence of 49.15%). The prevalence of adult host males was 65.9%, and that of adult females was 70.3%; the prevalence of juveniles was 30%. The overall intensity of infection was 19.25 ± 23.52.

There were no significant differences in the prevalence between H. mabouia and P. pollicaris (Z= 0.63; P = 0.4) and Sorensen index comparing the endoparasite faunas of the two hosts was 0.75 (75%). However, there significant difference in the mean intensity of infection (U=497; Zajusted=3.82; P< 0.001) between the two lizard species studied.


By invading and colonizing new environments, individuals of H. mabouia will encounter new food resources that are intermediate hosts for parasites that differ from those of their African origin. Thus, H. mabouia appeared to be able to rid itself of its original gastrointestinal parasites (escape-from-the-enemy hypothesis, Wolfe 2002) – but the species is then colonized by the autochthonous parasite fauna (the guest-playing-host hypothesis, Criscione and Font, 2001). Hemidactylus mabouia has, however, apparently kept some of its natural parasites (from Africa), such as the acari Geckobia hemidactyli Lawrence, 1936 and the pentastomida Raillietiella frenata (Ali, Riley and Self, 1981) during its colonization of the Caribbean region and South America (Riley et al., 1991; Anjos et al., 2007, 2008).

Barton (1997) studied the endoparasites associated with a population of the toad Rhinella marina (Linnaeus, 1758) introduced into Australia and discovered that the helminth fauna of this frog had been acquired in its totality from the native fauna. The non-occurrence of exotic parasites in H. mabouia demonstrates that it has acquired endoparasites different from those present in its locality of origin – although Anjos et al. (2007, 2008) reported the African pentastomida R. frenata parasitizing H. mabouia in human habitations in Barbalha municipality (about 14 km from the present study site), Ceará state. It has been experimentally demonstrated that cockroaches can serve as intermediate hosts for R. frenata (Ali and Riley, 1983; Jeffery et al., 1985), although cockroaches were not found among the food items taken by the lizards analyzed here (unpublished data).

The pentastomide R. mottae was originally described as infecting Tropidurus hispidus (Spix, 1825), being reported in five other lizard species (H. mabouia, Micrablepharus maximiliani (Reinhardt and Lutken, 1861), Phyllopezus periosusRodrigues, 1986, P. pollicaris and Tropidurus semitaeniatus (Spix, 1825), demonstrating that it is a generalist in terms of its hosts (Anjos et al., 2008; Almeida et al., 2008, 2009; Sousa et al., 2010).

The genus Oochoristica Lühe 1898 comprises 45 species parasitizing reptiles and mammals, and eight species have been reported parasitizing 13 lizard genera in Brazil (Ávila and Silva, 2010). In the present study, Oochoristica sp. is reported in the two lizard species examined - representing the first record of the genus infecting P. pollicaris. Oochoristica vanzolini Rego & Rodrigues, 1965 has previously been recorded infecting H. mabouia in other regions of Brazil (Ávila and Silva, 2010). Little is known about the biology of this parasite as most studies involving the genus Oochoristica have been limited to descriptions of new species and reports of new hosts.

Physaloptera retusa was originally described as infecting Tupinambis teguixin (Linnaeus, 1758), but has subsequently been found in 36 other species of South American lizards (see the review by Ávila and Silva (2010)). H. mabouia and P. pollicaris represent two new host records of P. retusa.

Spauligodon oxkutzcabiensis was first described for the phyllodactylid Thecadactylus solimoensis Bergmann & Russell, 2007, and infections by this parasite were later reported in nine other South American lizards: Bogertia lutzae (Loveridge, 1941); Gymnodactylus geckoides (Spix, 1825); Microlophus occipitalis (Peters, 1871); Tropidurus guarani; Phyllodactylus reissi (Peters, 1862); Phyllodactylus inaequalis (Cope, 1876); Phyllodactylus johnwrighti (Dixon & Huey, 1970); Phyllodactylus microphyllus (Cope, 1876); and P. pollicaris (Ávila et al., 2012; Ávila and Silva, 2010). H. mabouia represents a new host of S. oxkutzcabiensis.

Host biological features, such diet, foraging strategies, physiology, and contact with monoxenous parasites influence the composition, richness, and structure of their helminth communities (Aho, 1990). The cestode, pentastomid, and the two nematodes of the family Physalopteridae found here are heteroxenous and use invertebrates as intermediate hosts (Anderson, 2000). The nematodes P. sceleratus and S. oxkutzcabiensis are monoxenous, and are generally acquired by the ingestion of eggs or through transcutaneous infections by their larval stages (Anderson, 2000). According to Aho (1990), infections are more commonly caused by parasites that complete their lifecycles directly within a single individual. In the present work, a greater diversity of heteroxenous parasites were encountered than monoxenous species (4 versus 2 species), although monoxenous parasites were more abundant (1536 versus 121 parasites).

According to the Sorensen similarity index, 75% of the parasites encountered were associated with both H. mabouia and P. pollicaris. At Valinhos municipality, southeastern Brazil, H. mabouia shared most of its helminth fauna with two other sympatric lizards, Mabuya frenata (Cope, 1862) and Tropidurus itambere Rodrigues, 1987 (Anjos et al. 2005). The authors also noted that H. mabouia had colonized the Neotropical region a long time ago and it was not surprising that their parasite communities were exclusively composed of local species, and very similar to those carried by sympatric lizard neighbors.

Largest (and presumably oldest) lizards tend to present higher prevalence and intensity of infection, which probably reflects their greater time of exposure to these parasites (Aho, 1990; Ribas et al., 1995). Adult H. mabouia and P. pollicaris differed significantly in size and weight, with P. pollicaris being significantly larger. Individuals of P. pollicaris had higher abundance of endoparasites (1487 parasites) than H. mabouia (170 parasites). Poulin (1997) noted that larger host species provide parasites with more space and greater niche diversities, and larger hosts also have greater chances of being exposed to parasites as they consume greater numbers of prey. However, of the four parasite species identified in P. pollicaris, two had monoxenous lifecycles and represented 97.4% of the total parasite abundance in these lizards.

The present study increases our knowledge of the parasite fauna and their lizard hosts in Ceará State and northeastern Brazil. Hemidactylus mabouia presented parasite entirely acquired from the native fauna. Hemidactylus mabouia showed greater diversity than P. pollicaris. However, P. pollicaris had higher intensity of infection than H. mabouia, showing a significant difference in the intensity of infection between the two lizards species studied. However, further studies are necessary to better understand their parasite-host interactions and the lack of relationships between the patterns of infection intensity, sex, and host size.


We are grateful to Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico – CNPq (PQ-311713/2012-2) for the research grant awarded to W. O. Almeida; the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES for the scholarship awarded to S. V. Brito. The specimens were collected under licence of ICMBio 29613-1; to Dr. Roy Richard Funch (UEFS) for suggestions and revision of English version of the manuscript; to M. E. Cabral, D. Q. Dias, D. L. Sales and O. P. Oliveira for their help with our field work.


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Received: March 11, 2013; Accepted: July 8, 2013

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