Ecomorphology of parasite attachment: experiments with feather lice.J Parasitol. 2006 Feb; 92(1):25-31.JP
The host specificity of some parasites can be reinforced by morphological specialization for attachment to mobile hosts. For example, ectoparasites with adaptations for attaching to hosts of a particular size might not be able to remain attached to larger or smaller hosts. This hypothesis is suggested by the positive correlation documented between the body sizes of many parasites and their hosts. We adopted an ecomorphological approach to test the attachment hypothesis. We tested the ability of host-specific feather lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera) to attach to 6 novel species of pigeons and doves that vary in size by nearly 2 orders of magnitude. Surprisingly, Rock Pigeon lice (Columbicola columbae) remained attached equally well to all 6 novel host species. We tested the relative importance of 3 factors that could facilitate louse attachment: whole-body insertion, tarsal claw use, and mandible use. Insertion, per se, was not necessary for attachment. However, insertion on coarse feathers of large hosts allowed lice to access feather barbules with their mandibles. Mandible use was a key component of attachment regardless of feather size. Attachment constraints do not appear to reinforce host specificity in this system.