BIRD AND MAMMAL LICE (PHTHIRAPTERA) OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
R. A. Cannings and G. G. E. Scudder
Copyright © 2005 - All rights reserved
Members of this Order are ectoparasites of either birds or mammals, and like many other ectoparasites are wingless, although descended from winged ancestors. They are rather soft-bodied insects, somewhat dorso-ventrally flattened, with legs modified for clinging. The tarsi are 1- or 2-segmented, and there are either 1 or 2 claws.
Since the adults tend to be rather inactive, the eyes are reduced or absent, and there are no ocelli on the head. The antennae are 3- or 5-segmented, filiform and easily visible in the Suborders Anoplura and Ischnocera, but usually capitate and lying in a groove in the Suborder Amblycera.
These lice are either chewing or sucking insects. The Amblycera and Ischnocera have mandibulate mouthparts and constitute the chewing or biting lice (previously grouped together as the Mallophaga). The Amblycera are found worldwide on birds and mammals, and usually roam freely on the body of the host, seldom attaching firmly to the feathers or fur. They feed on feathers, skin surface or blood. The Ischnocera, which also occur on both birds and mammals, usually attach to feathers or fur. Those on birds feed on the feathers, those on mammals feed on the surface of the skin.
The Anoplura or sucking lice, lack mandibles and have piercing and sucking mouthparts. They are exclusively blood-sucking and blood-feeding on eutherian mammals. They spend their whole life on a single host, and so are quite sessile.
Bird parasites lay eggs attached to feathers, while in the lice on mammals, eggs are usually attached to fur. Immature stages are similar to the adults. Host specificity is usually high, with many mammal lice occupying specific regions of their host. Transfer between hosts is usually by body contact.
Unless these lice are particularly abundant, they seldom have a significant impact on host fitness. However, those on humans are of some concern because they can act as intermediate hosts of tapeworms and filarial worms, and can act as vectors of pathogenic organisms. Specifically they can carry rickettsiae which cause typhus, trench fever, and murine typhus. They can also carry the spirochaete which causes relapsing fever.
As a group, the Phthiraptera show a tendency for the thoracic segments to become fused, especially in the Anoplura. All lack cerci on the abdomen.
The North American Anoplura have been monographed by Kim et al. (1986), with the species in British Columbia reported by Spencer (1966), Kennedy and Newman (1986), Kennedy (1988), and Margolis and Arai (1989). Emerson (1972a, 1972b) provided a checklist of the North American Amblycera and Ischnocera, with records for British Columbia mostly in Spencer (1948, 1957), and Wheeler and Threlfall (1989). Galloway and Skidmore (2001) provide an updated summary of the Phthiraptera fauna of Canada.
Emerson, K.C. 1972a. Checklist of the Mallophaga of North America (North of Mexico). Part I. Sub-order Ischnocera. Desert Test Center, Dugway, Utah.
Emerson, K.C. 1972b. Checklist of the Mallophaga (North of Mexico). Part II. Sub-order Amblycera. Desert Test Center, Dugway, Utah.
Galloway, T.D. and Skidmore, R. 2001. Notes and comments of the Phthiraptera (in) Faunal Analysis Project. http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/english/phthiraptera.htm.
Kennedy, M.J. 1988. Synopsis of the parasites of domesticated mammals of Canada. Animal Health Division, Alberta Agriculture, Edmonton. 53 pp.
Kennedy, M.J. and Newman, R.A. 1986. Synopsis of the parasites of vertebrates of Canada. Ectoparasites of terrestrial mammals. Animal Health Division, Alberta Agriculture, Edmonton, 109 pp.
Kim, K.C., Pratt, H.D. and Stojanovich, C.J. 1986. The Sucking Lice of North America. An illustrated manual for identification. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London, 241 pp.
Margolis, L. and Arai, H.P. 1989. Synopsis of the parasites of vertebrates of Canada. Parasites of marine mammals. Animal Health Division, Alberta Agriculture, Edmonton. 26 pp.
Spencer, G.J. 1948. Some records of Mallophaga from British Columbia birds. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. 44:3-6.
Spencer, G.J. 1957. Further records of Mallophaga from British Columbia birds. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. 53:3-10.
Spencer, G.J. 1966. Anoplura from British Columbia and some adjacent areas. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. 63:23-30.