A hitchhiker’s guide to parasite transmission: The phoretic behaviour of feather lice

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:C. W. Harbison, Jacobson, M. V., Clayton, D. H.
Journal:International Journal for Parasitology
Pagination:569 - 575
Date Published:2009

Transmission to new hosts is a fundamental challenge for parasites. Some species meet this challenge by hitchhiking on other, more mobile parasite species, a behaviour known as phoresis. For example, feather feeding lice that parasitise birds disperse to new hosts by hitchhiking on parasitic louse flies, which fly between individual birds. Oddly, however, some species of feather lice do not engage in phoresis. For example, although Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) ‘‘wing” lice (Columbicola columbae) frequently move to new hosts phoretically on louse flies (Pseudolynchia canariensis), Rock Pigeon ‘‘body” lice (Campanulotes compar) do not. This difference in phoretic behaviour is puzzling because the two species of lice have very similar life cycles and are equally dependent on transmission to new hosts. We conducted a series of experiments designed to compare the orientation, locomotion and attachment capabilities of these two species of lice, in relation to louse flies. We show that wing lice use fly activity as a cue in orientation and locomotion, whereas body lice do not. We also show that wing lice are more capable of remaining attached to active flies that are walking, grooming or flying. The superior phoretic ability of wing lice may be related to morphological adaptations for life on wing feathers, compared to body feathers.

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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith