I arrived at Ottenby yesterday, and collected my first lice already last night: a pair of Saemundssonia sternae from a juvenile Common Tern Sterna hirundo. There were more terns caught last night, but I was too tired, and decided to actually focus on passerines, and not just say that I would… I have most of the lice from terns already, and even though it would be nice to get large sample sizes to be able to do proper studies of infestation rates and patterns, that will have to wait to some other time.
Migration hasn’t started very much yet, and I fumigated only 25 birds today, three of which gave lice (1):
– A Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs gave some Menacanthus sp.;
– A Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio also gave some Menacanthus sp.;
– A juvenile Starling Sturnus vulgaris gave both some Menacanthus eurysternus, one Brueelia nebulosa, and Sturnidoecus sturni.
Unfortunately, we already have good sequences of both the Brueelia and the Sturnidoecus, and I think I’ve collected Menacanthus from all these hosts before, but all lice are good lice…
Curiously, the Sturnidoecus were all sitting on the secondaries, despite commonly being seen as a typical head louse ecomorph (see e.g. Johnson et al., 2012). This could be because they have escaped from the bird’s head while I was ruffling through those feathers manually, but if so, they managed to get quite far down the bird’s body while the jar was full of ethyl acetate without dying. It’s one of many anecdotal pieces of evidence that suggest that perhaps these ecomorphs are not as biologically relevant as we usually believe. Nelson and Murray (1971) showed that for several genera, these ecomorphs are not very relevant as far as egg deposition and feeding preference are concerned. Their methodology for ascertaining this (kill bird, wrap it in cloths drenched in chloroform, freeze, go through carcass thoroughly) is perhaps good for trying to find out where lice normally are, but it seems a waste of birds…
I’ve also finally heard from Heidi and Emily, and they’ve both reached their destinations (Sundre on Gotland and Umeå, respectively) and started collecting, though at least Heidi hadn’t got any lice so far.
(However, problems with collection at Falsterbo, the fourth locality we were planning to use, have really kept me from enjoying the first day here very much…)
(1) Note that all identifications are very preliminary and based entirely on host relationships. I didn’t bring a dissection microscope, and it is sometimes hard to place lice even in the correct genus without slide mounting…
Johnson, K.P., Shreve, S.M., Smith, V.S. (2012). Repeated adaptive divergence of microhabitat specialization in avian feather lice. BMC Biology, 10:52, 1-11.
Nelson, B.C., Murray, M.D. (1971). The distribution of Mallophaga on the Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia). International Journal of Parasitology, 1, 21-29.