A Study of the Mallophaga of Birds with particular reference to their ecology.

Author Ash, J.S.
Citation Ash, J.S. (1960). A Study of the Mallophaga of Birds with particular reference to their ecology. Ibis, 102: 93-110.


Apparently very little is known of the biology and habits of the Mallophaga. Their close adherence to their host, their remarkable host and food specificity, and the difficulty of keeping them alive once they have been separated from their host, are some of the problems involved in a study of live Mallophaga.

The systematics of the group are still in a very neglected condition. The descriptions of the earlier workers were poor and they paid little heed to the Rules of Nomenclature, with the result that their synonymy is very involved and there is much confusion within the group. Harrison (1916) was the first person to obtain some order out of the chaos. Clay & Hopkins (1950) made an effort to clear up this confusion, and for a start set up neotypes for all species described up to and including 1818, of which the original types have been lost. Soon after, these two authors published an up-to-date check-list (Hopkins & Clay 1952). Thus, it is not always possible to give a correct name to species belonging to genera which are in need of revision. In these cases, and others where the specimens have not been fully identified, the generic name is used together with the name of the host.

Wherever a similar species of Mallophaga has occurred regularly on the same host (e.g. Menacanthus sinuatus Burm. on the Great Tit*), and on several host individuals has proved to be the same species, then it has been presumed that all the lice of the same genus occurring on that host are of that species.

Details are given in this paper of the relationship existing between some of the bird Mallophaga and their hosts, the extent of their parasitisation of a bird, fluctuations of parasite populations throughout the year; and several other aspects of the problem are also dealt with. Most Mallophaga work, apart from systematics, consists almost entirely of records of species from particular hosts, mostly dead. The whole picture of their general ecology (seasonal distribution, frequency, numbers per host, distribution on host, etc.) is largely new.

The greater part of the work was carried out in 1949 and 1950 at the Imperial College Field Station, Silwood Park, Sunninghill, Berkshire, an area which comprises some 80 acres. Approximately half of this area consists of deciduous woodland with conifer islands; the other half being grass and parkland. A large sample of autumn migrants at Ottenby, Sweden, was also examined in 1950.

The results of the work carried out on other bird parasites from this same group of birds have been published elsewhere: Ornithomyia (Ash 1950a, 1951, 1952a, 1953); Acarina (Ash & Hughes 1952); Ticks (Arthur 1952 a-c); Siphonaptera (Ash 1950b, 1952b); and Protocalliphora (Owen & Ash 1955). It is hoped to publish elsewhere the results of investigations into the breeding biology of Philopterus turdi Denny and some other species.

* Scientific names are listed in Appendix 3.

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