Another day, another almost no lice

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Three new species (for this trip) were examined today:
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava (no lice)
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla (no lice)
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris (no lice)

In fact, apart from a single Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica that wasn’t banded, because its right leg was broken, none of the birds I examined today had any lice. Tomas got lucky and got a few lice from his birds, but not even Domestic Sparrows Passer domesticus and Tree Sparrows P. montanus I looked at had any lice. The total for today was 31 birds, and the total so far is 247, a fifth of which have been Willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, and about a tenth each have been Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca and Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio.

We did manage to get a nice result today, though. Tomas found a living Menacanthus on the bench, and we’ve been saving live hippoboscids in the fridge, so today we did the first trial of which genera can do phoresy (hitch-hiking on hippoboscids). This is previously mainly know from Brueelia, Sturnidoecus, and Columbicola, but has recently been observed in Hohorstiella. We put the Menacanthus and the hippoboscid in a small vial, shook the vial so that they both ended up in the bottom, and watched the louse climb onto the fly, which struggled visibly to get it off. The fly was monitored on and off for the next ten minutes, and while the louse fell off a few times (we mistakenly used a plastic vial, which means they were subject to static electricity), it managed to climb back on and remain on the fly for most of this time. Unlike other genera, which seem to prefer to attach themselves to the legs or abdomen of the fly, Menacanthus was mainly seen on the thorax and head, but also on the legs and abdomen.

We’ll try to do these trials for throughout my stay here, and Tomas may continue when he goes back to Czech republic, and while we won’t get any really spectacular results, we will at least get an indication of which lice can do phoresy, and which cannot. This will give some vague indication of when it is or isn’t appropriate to factor in phoresy in taxonomy and host relationships of lice.

In this case, phoresy makes sense, as the genus Menacanthus often have very large host ranges. This may, of course, be because of poor taxonomy, but if they regularly practice phoresy, and thus have access to a wide range of hosts as hippoboscids are not host specific, this would perhaps explain the wide hosts ranges to some part.

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