Turtle blood flukes belonging to the family Spirorchiidae (Digenea) represent a major threat for sea turtle health and are considered the most important parasitic cause of turtle stranding and mortality worldwide. Despite the large diversity of spirorchiid species found globally, there are only 2 records for free-ranging Mediterranean sea turtles that date back to the late 1800s involving just Hapalotrema mistroides Monticelli, 1896. This study describes the first fatal confirmed case of spirorchiidiasis in a free-ranging Mediterranean loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta (Linnaeus) and, owing to the complexities of taxonomic identification of these parasites, provides the first molecular characterization and phylogenetic analysis of H. mistroides from the Mediterranean Sea. The loggerhead turtle showed cachexia and digestive disorders associated with severe damage to the pancreas and intestinal ganglia, caused by deposition of Hapalotrema eggs forming granulomas. Massive Hapalotrema egg emboli in several tissues and organs and encephalitis were the most probable contributions to the death of the turtle. The congruence between the phylogenetic analysis of both the ITS2 and 28S rDNA resolved the Italian and USA H. mistroides as the same species, confirming the parasite identification. The case here described clearly indicates that the blood flukes should be considered in the differential diagnosis of Mediterranean sea turtle diseases.
- Mediterranean Sea/epidemiology
- Trematode Infections/epidemiology