Ozobranchus margoi and Ozobranchus branchiatus are the only two species of marine turtle leeches (Ozobranchus spp.) known to inhabit the Atlantic coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico. In early reports of fibropapillomatosis (FP) in green turtles (Chelonia mydas), O. branchiatus was implicated as a vector in the transmission of Fibropapilloma-associated turtle herpesvirus (FPTHV). It is imperative that the leech species be identified to elucidate the role Ozobranchus spp. may play in disease transmission. In this study, Ozobranchus branchiatus has been identified for the first time on a loggerhead (Caretta caretta) turtle, and the molecular data for this species is now available for the first time in GenBank. Both species of leeches were also found infecting a single C. mydas. Using morphological taxonomy combined with distance- and character-based genetic sequence analyses, this study has established a DNA barcode for both species of Ozobranchus spp. leech and has shown it can be applied successfully to the identification of leeches at earlier stages of development when morphological taxonomy cannot be employed. The results suggest a different haplotype may exist for O. branchiatus leeches found on C. caretta versus C. mydas. Leech cocoon residue collected from a C. mydas was identified using the new method.
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