The myriad of predators, herbivores and filter-feeders of Panthalassa Nova provide a veritable smorgasbord for parasites, and indeed, most of these parasites are unfamiliar compared to the ones we see today. These various forms can be found preying on both open-water and shallow-water animals of almost all kinds, though some specialize in certain hosts.
Tumorfish (Teratentericthys pestis) are a very highly developed kind of internal parasite, being descended from small lampreys. Starting as free-swimming larvae, they then develop into the courting form, which resembles a typical lamprey. Upon finding a mate, the male clamps its mouth onto the female, permanently, and in unison they seek out a large host. They enter the mouth of a host, usually a tzar trapmaw or other large trapmaw species, and migrate into the lower part of the digestive system. Here, the female attaches to the wall of the bowel, and over 2 months, the pair develops into a large tumor-like breeding form (up to 25cm long), where neither male nor female can be distinguished. This form remains in one spot within the host’s bowel, actively absorbing nutrients from the gut contents of its host, and frequently releasing thick-walled egg-cases, which are passed from the anus, unharmed, to hatch into a larvae.
Seleeche (Sanguisqualus nanus) are only of only two remaining kinds of shark, this 12-centimeter-long species lodges itself within the gills of large Trapmaws, in order to suck blood like a leech. It bears numerous fin spines, which makes it very hard to dislodge, individuals will free themselves and swim actively when it is time to seek a mate.
Leech Barnacles (genus Cryptogastria) are small barnacles that are born as a free-swimming larva in the plankton. When they are ready to reach adulthood, they latch onto a free swimming animal such as a squidjet or trapmaw, and start to outwardly resemble a typical adult barnacle. It is noticeable on the hide of the host as a small lump of chitionous plates, with no cirri or opening to be seen except a respiratory pore. The gut extends beneath the skin of its host, much like the roots of a plant, and with this it absorbs nutriment directly from the host’s bodily fluids and blood. Unusually for barnacles, they mostly reproduce parthenogenically, but when more than one individual is clustered close together, they will mate in the typical way also.
Blood-Limpets (genus Sanguichelys) are, as their name suggests, descended from the limpets of our time, though their shells only reach about a centimetre in diameter. As juveniles they crawl about in the midst of the sponges on tropical reefs, sustained by their yolk sacs for about a month. When they mature, they develop a muscular proboscis which ends in a calcareous fang that is used to suck blood. They usually latch on to slugfish and other reef-dwelling animals that graze upon the encrusting organisms of the reef, and will remain attached to one host until it is time to mate, feeding all the while. Towards the end of their lives, they un-attach themselves and are drawn towards the reef-building sponges, in search of a mate. The adults leave large masses of eggs ensconced safely inside the crevices and holes of the sponges, after which the adults die.
Lodger Cramphs (Dormicancer valvophilus) are a kind of commensal Amphipod that inhabits the mantle cavity of tomb-clams. They spend their entire lives inside the host, feeding on scraps of food, waste, and dead skin. A single clam may host as many as five of these 3 centimeter long crustaceans, and they only reproduce when they find another of their kind, being able to change sex in the case of a mismatch. The larvae that are lucky enough to be inhaled by a Tomb Clam will quickly mature into new adults.
Seachiggers (Genus Thalassacari) are common, fingernail-sized parasites that are mostly found in seaghum meadows. They are a kind of Isopod crustacean unusual in having a 3 stage life-cycle. The larvae crawl among the seaghum until they find a suitable, fleshy-skinned host to latch onto, after which they transform into their parasitic form (seen in the picture). After feeding and growing to a suitable size, in the summer they shed their skin and are transformed again into the breeding stage. This stage is freely mobile, and searches in earnest among the seaghum in order to mate, after which they lay a large cluster of eggs and then die. The windfall of dead Seachiggers is occasionally noticeable in summer and provides food for other animals.
Wartlice (genus Verrucaris) are a kind of parasitic Isopod which inhabit large, fleshy hosts such as trapmaws, asterotheres and slugfish. In their adult form, they reach up to 1.5 centimeters long, and attach themselves to the skin of a host, digging into it until only the top of their carapace is showing. They generally remain on one host, feeding on, blood, skin and bodily fluids, but they may seek a new spot to attach to if the previous becomes too grown-over or scarred. Mating relies on the host being infested by a suitable amount of these crustaceans, with any individual able to change sex, many mate and produce clutches of free-floating eggs as much as 10 times in their lifetime.
Burrlice (genus Echinocephalocaris) are a kind of parasitic Isopod which can reach a length of 2 centimeters. Common among the reefs, its hosts are usually various slugfish, it seeks out the breathing orifice near the mantle and lodges itself inside with its large, backward-pointing head spines. Here it will remain, feeding on blood and body fluids, but unlike some parasites, it is able to dislodge itself and swim in search of another host, or a mate. During the breeding season, individual Burrlouse leave their hosts and swim about in large numbers to spawn, larvae are free swimming, and it is only upon maturity that they take on a parasitic lifestyle.
Siphonocaris (Siphonocaris sp) is a kind of much-modified isopod, which parasitizes the innards of many kinds of Trapmaw. Starting as mobile, rather shrimp-like juveniles, when they enter a suitable host, they attach themselves and undergo a series of moults until they become degenerate internal parasites, as seen in the above picture. Here they will suck blood, and absorb nutrients directly from the hosts body, until they reach the final stage of their lives. At this stage, they moult again, into a mobile, worm-like form which exits the host and swims freely in search of a mate. During the warmest part if the year, surface waters may be swarming with sexually mature Siphonocaris, all seeking to spawn.
Maritime Rotacles (Rotobernaque sp) are a fingernail-sized kind of rotacle that prefers to settle in small masses on the outer skin of large free-swimming creatures, such as crane-necked phantoms, sea-blimps or trapmaws. Here, they grow and filter-feed much in the way a barnacle does when it is attached to a ship, breeding relies on individuals adjacent to each other in a fair sized cluster, with males releasing sticky, crawling gametes to fertilize any nearby females.
Crown-drill (Coronaterebra dermaphila) are a kind of macroscopic rotifer that are skin parasites of various species of trapmaw. Reaching a maximum of 5 millimeters long, they settle on a host when they are in their final larval stage, and will usually spend their whole lives upon a single host. They drill into the upper layers of the host’s skin, forming a gall-like wound in which the drill lives out its life, feeding on the flesh of the host. During the mating season, both males and females cease feeding and become bloated with gametes, which they release into the ocean before they die.
Squick (genus Acariteuthis) are a descendant of the squid which are adapted to a fully parasitic lifestyle, they reach about the length of a man’s thumb. Able to swim about freely, they may have more than one host in a lifetime. It will adhere to its host with the large ring of suckers that circles the mouth, as it scrapes away portions of skin and flesh with its horny beak. After making a sizeable crater in the skin, it will shuffle over to a new spot and start again. When the time comes to breed, they abandon their current host and swim in search of a mate, both male and female produce a chemical scent that allows them to find each other. After casting a mass of eggs adrift, the male and female both die, their larvae feed on small plankton until they are large enough to become parasitic like their parents.
Tick-Urchins (genus Sanguiechinus) are small echinoderms no larger than a man’s thumbnail, they appear mostly flat and featureless, spending their entire lives aboard one host. Their larva are free swimming and only mature when they settle on a suitable host. These parasites feed by slowly siphoning bodily fluids into their gut, quickly enough to nourish themselves but not so fast as to bloat themselves. They are more commonly found parasitizing open-ocean creatures such as sea-blimps and trapmaws.
Slabsuckers (genus Dermoradix) are a descendant of some kind of small starfish, which have adapted wholly to becoming a parasite on the outer surface of large, free swimming animals. As a larva, they attach to a host, and as they mature, their outer body becomes a tough, fleshy cap, while the everted stomach of the animal has taken root under the skin of the host, and siphons nutrients directly from the bloodstream of the host. Having taken root, they spend their whole lives in the same spot, not even uprooting in order to spawn. During the warmer part of the year, each one swells with gametes and lets out a large stream of them into the surrounding ocean, those fortunate enough to be fertilized may develop and settle upon a host of their own.
Enterorms (genus Enterosuga) are a variety of leech which are an internal parasite, mostly of larger kinds of slugfish in reef habitats. Their larvae are active swimmers, and once they mature into undersized adults, seek to enter the mouth of the host, coming to inhabit the folded walls of their digestive system. Here they are able to both suck blood, and absorb nutrients from the host’s meals, a mature enterorm may grow as big as a centimetre in girth. After they have grown to a suitable size, they migrate towards the mouth cavity of the host, and begin to constantly produce gametes for the rest of their lives.
Ormlice (Ambulosuga sp) are half-centimeter-long, mobile marine leeches that attach to any host that is fleshy, without an external shell. Here they will crawl about over the host, seeking suitable spots to suck blood from. When they crawl from place to place, they use their fore and hind suckers, moving much like an inchworm, they are also able to swim freely in search of a mate, or a new host.
Vamporms (genus Vermictus) are closely related to eelorms, but have adopted a parasitic lifestyle. They feed by swimming up to a large open-water animal, and harmlessly biting off a chunk of flesh using their large mandibles and muscular lips. In this way they greatly resemble the cookie cutter shark of our time. These worms are most common in the open ocean but can be found sparser numbers in most marine habitats. Vamporms reach a maximum length of about 30 centimetres.