MEPS 244:153-162 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps244153

Sneaky snails and wasted worms: kleptoparasitism by Trichotropis cancellata (Mollusca, Gastropoda) on Serpula columbiana (Annelida, Polychaeta)

Erika V. Iyengar*

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA
*Present address: Department of Biology, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio 44691, USA. Email:

ABSTRACT: Individuals of the marine snail Trichotropis cancellata can either suspension feed or steal food from tube-dwelling polychaete worm hosts (kleptoparasitism). Because kleptoparasitism is facultative in this case, the performance of both members can be evaluated separately and together. I used field experiments to compare the growth of suspension feeding snails with that of snails (either singly or in groups) on Serpula columbiana polychaete hosts. All sizes of T. cancellata grew more quickly (up to 18 times faster) when parasitizing S. columbiana than when restricted to suspension feeding. Kleptoparasitism provided a proportionally greater growth benefit for small and medium-sized snails than for larger ones, suggesting that smaller gastropods are more food-limited when suspension feeding. Fecundity was positively correlated with snail size, so the growth benefits of kleptoparasitism are likely to be selectively advantageous. Increasing numbers of medium-sized snails on a host reduced individual snail growth rates, suggesting competition for the worm¹s food. All snails were equally affected; there was not a superior competitor among medium-sized snails. Parasitism was experimentally demonstrated because serpulid worms grew their tubes more slowly when supporting parasitic snails and were increasingly negatively affected by additional medium-sized parasitic snails. Adding large parasitic snails did not exacerbate the negative impact on worm tube growth, so I concluded that a single large snail reduces worm hosts to their minimal rate of tube extension. Suspension feeding T. cancellata gain additional resources when they switch to kleptoparasitism.


KEY WORDS: Symbiosis · Kleptoparasitism · Growth rate


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