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The larvae of unionid freshwater mussels (i.e., glochidia) undergo a parasitic stage requiring their attachment to the external epithelia of fish hosts, where they metamorphose into free-living juveniles. We describe the physiological effects in bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) of infection with glochidia from the paper pondshell (Utterbackia imbecillis). Glochidia accumulation on bluegill increased dramatically at concentrations of 2000 glochidia liter-1 and above, reaching a maximum attachment density of about 30 glochidia g-1 fish at 4000 glochidia liter-1. Plasma cortisol was the most sensitive indicator of biological effect to glochidial exposure, increasing significantly in hosts exposed to 2000 glochidia liter-1 or greater. Glochidia were 31% more likely to undergo successful juvenile metamorphosis when attached to bluegill with elevated plasma cortisol, largely due to the enhanced survivorship of these larvae during the first 48 h after infection. We tested the hypothesis that glochidial attachment and juvenile metamorphosis were stimulated directly by plasma cortisol in fish hosts. Bluegill were given an intraperitoneal injection of cortisol, then infected with 1000 glochidia liter-1 at 48 h after hormone supplementation. Cortisol-injected fish had a 42% increase in the number of attached glochidia g-1 fish and a 28% increase in larval metamorphosis compared to sham-injected and control fish. We provide evidence that cortisol enhances glochidial metamorphosis on hosts by improving the retention of attached glochidia. This study gives insights into the influence of host physiology on glochidial attachment and juvenile mussel transformation. © 2011 Marine Biological Laborat006Fry.

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Biological Bulletin

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