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Red acro bug
A typical red bug infestation on an acroporid.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Maxillopoda
Subclass: Copepoda
Order: Harpacticoida
Family: Tegastidae
Genus: Tegastes
Species: T. acroporanus
Binomial name
Tegastes acroporanus
Humes, 1981 [1]

Tegastes acroporanus, also known as the red acro bug for the red coloration on its body and for its prey, Acropora, are copepods in the family Tegastidae. Red acro bugs are parasitic on the hard coral reef building corals in the genus Acropora, and feed on these corals exclusively. Though it has been found on all types of Acropora, it seems to be less predominant on species with large, “hairy” polyps such as the species A. millepora. Being a copepod, they creatures small, and many times can be difficult to see with the naked eye. However, their existence on a suspected affected Acropora can be determined either by looking for the typical symptoms of T. acroporanus or by shining a flashlight on the suspected Acropora and looking for tiny fluorescent specks, caused by the light bouncing off the red pigment in the bugs' bodies.

When on an Acropora they remain, for the most part, stationary and will spend most of their time consuming the tissue of the acropora. They are very difficult to dislodge once stationary, using their appendages to latch onto the Acropora and are not removable even by suction or strong water movement, which may in turn, damage the Acropora. A small number will leave a coral if the coral is disturbed and will swim in the water column, looking for another host.

First reports of this aquatic pest came in the early 2000s and the infestation sped quickly throughout the marine keeping hobby around the world with the popularity of coral fragment trading. Due to the potential threat of this parasitic copepod to the hobby, many different treatments have been tried and testing through the years and it is now possible to stop or at least slow the infestation of T. acroporanus.

While Tegastes acroporanus or the red acro bug is a parasite on Acropora corals, it does not always kill the coral. The overall health of the host prior to infestation, the overall health of the aquarium system, and the degree of colonization will contribute to whether or not an affected Acropora can withstand the infestation.

There are several possible signs of an infestation of red acro bugs:

  • reduced extension of polyps and/or the coral tissue
  • change in coloration, typically involving a loss of colored pigments from tips and branches, and a change to a more uniform brown color
  • reduced or stalled growth rates
  • loss of tissue pigmentation including the loss of zooxanthellae pigmentation resulting in a bleached appearance
  • local or colony-wide tissue loss, possibly as a result of colonization stress rather than from direct consumption of tissue by predation
  • death of the colony

The Dragonface Pipefish, Corythoichthys haematopterus, is a natural predator of the red acro bug.

Notes

References

  • The Reef Aquarium Volume 3, by J. Charles Delbeek and Julian Sprung
  • Book of Coral Propagation Volume 1, by Anthony Calfo
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