Invertebrate Zoology conducts research, research training and graduate education on the world’s parasites — their global diversity, evolution, geography, genomics, morphology, conservation, ecology and behavior. Major areas of research in Invertebrate Zoology are the parasites of sharks and rays, particularly tapeworms and other metazoans.  Investigations include the diversity, morphology, systematics, coevolution, and life cycles of these cestodes.

Shark photo

Ray photo

Tapeworms from Vertebrate Bowels of the Earth

This project is focused on the cestodes (or tapeworms), that, as adults, inhabit the digestive system (i.e., bowels) of all classes of vertebrates. It brings together 22 expert cestode taxonomists from 13 countries around the world to treat all orders and families of this class on a global scale. Whereas the current diversity of cestodes is estimated to be ~ 5,000 species, newly collected material, in combination with investigation of existing available undescribed taxa, is predicted to yield a total of ~1,600-1,700 new cestode species. These taxa will be formally described by this expert team in collaboration with post-doc, and graduate and undergraduate student participants. The reorganization of cestode orders (and in some instance families if necessary) will occur only if/when stability in the phylogenetic results has been obtained.

Parasite Exhibit photo

The “Faces” of Parasites

Parasites are the focus of two new exhibits on the sixth floor of the KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute. While one deals with the common parasites that affect humans, the other shows artful colorized electron microsope images of the parasites of sharks and rays. Dubbed “the faces of parasites,” the exhibit combines LED panels  with large scale photographs to show parasite morphology (characteristics) in a dramatic manner. The exhibit is on view now at the museum.

New Species of Tapeworm discovered

Now a KU alumna, Jennifer M. Kissinger has carved a niche in the taxonomy of parasites by discovering four new species of tapeworms living in the gut of guitarfish. She discovered the tapeworms as an undergraduate participating in research in the lab of Kirsten Jensen, associate professor of organismal biology. Jensen specializes in researching the diversity and morphology of parasites — specifically tapeworms, parasitizing stingrays and their relatives.