Pfiesteria II

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Pfiesteria Pfiesteria II Erythrodermatitis

About Pfiesteria piscicida

An Overview

What Is Pfiesteria ?

Pfiesteria is a dinoflagellate -- it is not a bacterium or a virus. Dinoflagellates are a natural part of marine ecosystems and are generally referred to under the broad heading of "algae." Using their flagella -- slender whip-like tails -- they propel themselves about, acting very much like animals, though half contain chloroplasts and perform photosynthesis like other algae. Actually neither plant nor animal but "protists," these tiny organisms cause what we call red tides, or mahogany tides.

Historically, dinoflagellates have not caused toxic blooms in the Chesapeake Bay as they have in other parts of the world (in Florida, Maine and the Pacific Northwest, for example). Recent fish kills, however, raise concerns that harmful algal blooms may be on the rise (1). (See "In Harm's Way? The Threat of Toxic Algae," in Maryland Marine Notes.)

Although it is a dinoflagellate, Pfiesteria exhibits behavior different from normal "red tide" organisms. While dinoflagellates may contain toxins (only about two percent of known species are toxic), these are usually carried inside the organism and enter the water only when the cells break up. Pfiesteria, on the other hand, appears to use its toxin in a more proactive way, to stun fish and then feed on them.

According to work by pioneering researcher JoAnn Burkholder and others at North Carolina State University, Pfiesteria assumes more than twenty different forms during its lifetime, including a difficult-to-detect cyst stage, an amoeboid stage, and a toxic vegetative stage, where it swims with its flagella and attacks hapless fish. To learn more about the complex life history of Pfiesteria, please visit NCSU Aquatic Botany Laboratory Pfiesteria piscicida Homepage.

 
[Pfiesteria piscicida image]
  
Scanning electron micrograph of Pfiesteria piscicida  (Steidinger et Burkholder sp. nov.). This single celled dinoflagellate is approximately 7 microns wide at its girth (7 thousandths of a millimeter wide); the ends of its long flagellae are cut off from this picture.

For more Pfiesteria images, please visit the NCSU Aquatic Botany Laboratory Pfiesteria & Pfiesteria-Like Image Gallery.

To learn more about the complex life history of Pfiesteria, please visit NCSU Aquatic Botany Laboratory Pfiesteria piscicida Homepage.

Please see the following section to learn about what is involved in identifying Pfiesteria piscicida.

Cited Reference

  1. Marshall, H. G. 1996. Toxin Producing Phytoplankton in Chesapeake Bay. Virginia Journal of Science, 47(1):29-37.

[*]Overview: Pfiesteria in the Cheasapeake Bay
[*]Overview: What is Pfiesteria?
[*]Overview: Idenftifying Pfiesteria piscicida
[*]Overview: Pfiesteria and Human Health
   
[*]Overview: Pfiesteria and Seafood
[*]Overview: Pfiesteria Studies in the Cheasapeake Bay
[*]Overview: Whom To Call
[*]About Pfiesteria piscicida

 

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Fish Health in Chesapeake Bay

Last modified Thursday, 22-Apr-1999 15:51:30 EDT

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UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Department of Veterinary Medicine
Aquatic Pathology Center

[Maryland Sea Grant] [NOAA]
 

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