ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Anguillicola crassus is an economically and ecologically important parasitic nematode of eels. The native range of A. crassus is in East Asia, where it infects Anguilla japonica, the Japanese eel. A. crassus was introduced into European eels, Anguilla anguilla, 30 years ago. The parasite is more pathogenic in its new host than in its native one, and is thought to threaten the endangered An. anguilla across its range. The molecular bases for the increased pathogenicity of the nematodes in their new hosts is not known. RESULTS: A reference transcriptome was assembled for A. crassus from Roche 454 pyrosequencing data. Raw reads (756,363 total) from nematodes from An. japonica and An. anguilla hosts were filtered for likely host contaminats and ribosomal RNAs. The remaining 353,055 reads were assembled into 11,372 contigs of a high confidence assembly (spanning 6.6 Mb) and an additional 21,153 singletons and contigs of a lower confidence assembly (spanning an additional 6.2 Mb). Roughly 55% of the high condence assembly contigs were annotated with domain- or protein sequence similarity derived functional information. Sequences conserved only in nematodes, or unique to A. crassus were more likely to have secretory signal peptides. Thousands of high quality single nucleotide polymorphisms were identified, and coding polymorphism was correlated with diffrential expression between individual nematodes. Transcripts identfied as being under positive selection were enriched in peptidases. Enzymes involved in energy metabolism were enriched in the set of genes differentially expressed between European and Asian A. crassus. CONCLUSIONS: The reference transcriptome of A. crassus is of high quality, and will serve as a basis for future work on the invasion biology of this important parasite. The polymorphisms identied will provide a key tool set for analysis of population structure and identication of genes likely to be involved in increased pathogenicity in European eel hosts. The identication of peptidases under positive selection is a first step in this programme.