By Josh Lancette
A team of researchers from Poland and Germany have discovered four new species and one new genus of quill mites that are ectoparasites of owls. All of the specimens were collected from dry owl skins in museum collections, and the descriptions are published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
The new species belong to the family Syringophilidae and are ectoparasites of birds. So far, 334 described species belonging to 60 genera in this family have been discovered. However, only a few of those species were found on owls.
“Owls are extremely poorly examined for parasitic mites,” said Dr. Maciej Skoracki, one of the co-authors. “Our knowledge about syringophilid mites associated with owls is insufficient, and currently the quill mite fauna includes only eight species recorded from 11 owl species, which constitutes only 4.7 percent of the whole owl biodiversity. I hope that our study will be the first step to full knowledge of the quill mite fauna associated with strigiform birds because a lot of new species of quill mites are still waiting to be discovered.”
Because species of syringophilid mites are host-specific and many birds have not been studied for the kinds of mites present on them, there are likely to be many more species of syringophilid mites discovered.
“The number of syringophilid species (currently 334 described species) is only a small part of their actual biodiversity, as a wide spectrum of the avian hosts are still largely unexplored, including whole orders of birds,” said Skoracki. “The actual number of the extant syringophilid species is at least 5,000, as estimated based on species numbers of their potential hosts. It indicates how far we are from the full knowledge of the biodiversity of these mites.”
Besides being an incredibly speciose family, these mites could be potential vectors of diseases.
“Our studies showed that quill mites may be considered as potential vectors of the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum, an obligate intracellular pathogen causing human granulocytic anaplasmosis,” said Skoracki. “From an epidemiological point of view, the vertical transmission (nestling passage) of infected syringophilid mites might accelerate the dispersion of various avian diseases among host populations.”
The names of the new species and the new genus, along with full descriptions of the species and a key to the genera and species of syringophilid mites associated with owls, can be found in the paper.
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Josh Lancette is Manager of Publications at the Entomological Society of America.