Background: Species of Schellackia Reichenow, 1919 have been described from the blood of reptiles distributed worldwide. Recently, Schellackia spp. detected in European and Asian lizards have been molecularly characterised. However, parasites detected in American lizard hosts remain uncharacterised. Thus, phylogenetic affinities between the Old and New World parasite species are unknown.
Methods: In the present study, we characterised morphologically and molecularly the hemococcidian parasites (sporozoites) that infect three lizard hosts from North America and two from South America.
Results: In total, we generated 12 new 18S rRNA gene sequences of hemococcidian parasites infecting New World lizard hosts. By the microscopic examination of the smears we identified Schellackia golvani Rogier & Landau, 1975 (ex Anolis carolinensis Voigt) and Schellackia occidentalis Bonorris & Ball, 1955 (ex Uta stansburiana Baird & Girard and Sceloporus occidentalis Baird & Girard) in some samples, but the phylogenetic analysis indicated that all 18S rDNA sequences are distant from Schellackia species found in Old World lizards. In fact, the hemococcidian parasites detected in the New World lizards (including S. occidentalis and S. golvani) were closely related to the genus Lankesterella Labbé, 1899. Consequently, we suggest these two species to be included within the genus Lankesterella.
Conclusions: Life history traits of hemococcidian parasites such as the type of host blood cells infected, host species or number of refractile bodies are not valid diagnostic characteristics to differentiate the parasites between the genera Schellackia and Lankesterella. Indeed, lankesterellid parasites with a different number of refractile bodies had a close phylogenetic origin. Based on the phylogenetic results we provide a systematic revision of the North American hemococcidians. Our recommendation is to include the species formerly described in the genus Schellackia that infect American lizards into Lankesterella (Lankesterellidae) as Lankesterella golvani (Rogier & Landau, 1975) n. comb and L. occidentalis (Bonorris & Ball, 1955) n. comb.