A mechanical approach to understanding the impact of the nematode Anguillicoloides crassus on the European eel swimbladder

Helen A.L. Currie*, Nicholas Flores Martin, Gerardo Espindola Garcia, Frances M. Davis, Paul S. Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most detrimental factors in the drastic decline of the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) was the inadvertent introduction of the invasive nematode Anguillicoloides crassus. Infection primarily affects the swimbladder, a gas-filled organ that enables the eel to control its depth in the water. A reduction in swimbladder function may be fatal for eel undergoing their spawning migration to the Sargasso Sea, a journey of over 5000 km. Although the physiological damage caused by this invasive parasite is well studied through the use of quantifiable gross pathological indices, providing a good measure of the swimbladder health status, they cannot separate the role of mechanical and morphological damage. Our study examined the appropriateness of three commonly used indices as a measure of mechanical damage by performing uniaxial tensile tests on swimbladder specimens obtained from an infected eel population. When the test results were compared with the gross pathological indices it was found that thickness correlated most strongly with mechanical damage, both confirming and, more importantly, explaining the counterintuitive findings of earlier work. In a damaged swimbladder, the immune response leads to a trade-off; increasing wall thickness raises the pressure required for organ rupture but decreases strength. The results indicate that for moderate infection the mechanical integrity of the swimbladder can be maintained. For severe infection, however, a reduction in mechanical integrity may reach a tipping point, thereby affecting the successful completion of their oceanic migration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb219808
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • European eel
  • Mechanical damage
  • Parasite
  • Swimbladder
  • UKRI

Cite this