Typhloplanid flatworms (Mesostoma and related genera): Mechanisms of predation and evidence that they structure aquatic invertebrate communities

Leon Blaustein, Henri J. Dumont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mesostoma species and other typhloplanid flatworms are predators found in a wide variety of habitats. Laboratory observations of some Mesostoma spp found in shallow aquatic habitats (referred to as 'littoral species') have revealed a wide variety of prey killing mechanisms: 1) mucus trapping, 2) sit-and-wait predation, 3) releasing a toxin into the water, and 4) active searching. We review the existing literature on these mechanisms. We also describe for the first time the predatory behavior of a pelagic Mesostoma sp. found in Brazilian lakes. The existing literature is also reviewed to assess the potential impact of Mesostoma species and related genera on the aquatic invertebrate community. Mesostoma has a high potential for population increase and has been found in high densities in some shallow aquatic habitats. Single prey experiments show that a number of Mesostoma species feed heavily on mosquito larvae, some chironomid larvae and some daphnids but considerably less on most copepods and ostracods. Prey preference experiments reflect the same trends. Hence, these predation studies suggest that the flatworms, at high densities, should reduce populations of certain prey speces and, consequently, alter community structure. Field studies support this prediction. Mesostoma species, at high densities, appear to be important predators of mosquito larvae in shallow aquatic habitats even under conditions where high densities of planktivorous fishes had little impact. They also appear to alter zooplankton community structure. However, much of the field evidence is correlational and not experimental. No studies have assessed the impact of pelagic typhloplanids on zooplankton community structure. It is concluded that many more manipulative field experiments are needed to assess the impact of typhloplanids on aquatic invertebrate communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-77
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Mesostoma
  • Turbellaria
  • Typhloplanidae
  • community structure
  • mosquitoes
  • predation
  • zooplankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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