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Invasions by shell-boring polychaetes such as Polydora websteri Hartman have resulted in the collapse of oyster aquaculture industries in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. These worms burrow into bivalve shells, creating unsightly mud blisters that are unappealing to consumers and, when nicked during shucking, release mud and detritus that can foul oyster meats. Recent findings of mud blisters on the shells of Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas Thunberg) in Washington State suggest a new spionid polychaete outbreak. To determine the identity of the polychaete causing these blisters, we obtained Pacific oysters from two locations in Puget Sound and examined them for blisters and burrows caused by polychaete worms. Specimens were also obtained from eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica Gmelin) collected in New York for morphological and molecular comparison. We compared polychaete morphology to original descriptions, extracted DNA and sequenced mitochondrial (cytochrome c oxidase I [mtCOI]) and nuclear (small subunit 18S rRNA [18S rRNA]) genes to determine a species-level molecular identification for these worms. Our data show that Polydora websteri are present in the mud blisters from oysters grown in Puget Sound, constituting the first confirmed record of this species in Washington State. The presence of this notorious invader could threaten the sustainability of oyster aquaculture in Washington, which currently produces more farmed bivalves than any other US state.


Julieta C Martinelli, Heather M Lopes, Lorenz Hauser, Isadora Jimenez-Hidalgo, Teri L King, Jacqueline L Padilla-Gamiño, Paul Rawson, Laura H Spencer, Jason D Williams, Chelsea L Wood. Confirmation of the shell-boring oyster parasite Polydora websteri (Polychaeta: Spionidae) in Washington State, USA. Scientific reports. 2020 Mar 03;10(1):3961

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PMID: 32127567

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