Caught in the act: phenotypic consequences of a recent shift in feeding strategy of the shark barnacle Anelasma squalicola (Lovén, 1844)

Anelasma squalicola is a barnacle found attached to deep-water lantern sharks of the family Etmopteridae and is the only known cirriped on fish hosts. While A. squalicola is equipped with mouth and thoracic appendages (cirri), which are used for suspension feeding in conventional barnacles, its attachment device (peduncle) appears to have evolved into a feeding device, embedded into the tissue of its host. Here we demonstrate, through comparisons of the feeding apparatuses between A. squalicola and conventional suspension-feeding barnacles, that mouthparts and cirri of A. squalicola are highly reduced, and incapable of suspension-feeding activities. We show that in conventional suspension-feeding barnacles strong symmetries exist within these vital trophic structures. In A. squalicola strong asymmetries are widespread, indicating that those structures have been uncoupled from natural selection. The digestive tract is consistently empty, suggesting that feeding via cirri does not occur in A. squalicola. In addition, comparisons of stable isotope ratios (d13C and d15N) between A. squalicola, its shark host, and a conventional suspending feeding barnacle indicate that A. squalicola is taking nutrition directly from its host shark and not from the surrounding water. Our results strongly indicate that this barnacle has abandoned suspension feeding and now solely relies on obtaining nutrition from its host by a de novo evolved feeding mechanism.