Saturday, March 03, 2007

Stuck on You

(Alternate title: Lice Lice Baby)

Well, Stephanie (who I can’t find a link for) suggested whale lice, but alas, they are not listed. I will get to them, because it’s very possible that they’re endangered. While looking for information on them, I came across an interesting term: coendangered. While this may refer to close-knit predator/prey or flower/pollinator relationships, that’s not the relationship I’m focusing on. The species that I will claim this post is about is the Pygmy Hog-Sucking Louse (Haematopinus oliveri). It is a louse that sucks Pygmy Hogs, not a pygmy louse that sucks hogs1.
Image from Texas A&M
This is just a common hog louse. Can you tell the difference?

These lice, which live normal, lousy lives (hanging on to hair and sucking the blood that springs eternal from the ground) suffer from habitat destruction. What else would you call it when a parasite’s only host is disappearing? The pygmy hog lives in India savannahs, and according to Ultimate Ungulate2 they build/dig a type of nest that “facilitates the transfer of ticks and lice - including one, the pygmy hog louse Haematopinus oliveri, which is found only on this species.” Since the pygmy hogs are dying out due to, well, habitat destruction, so are the lice.

Other animals have this problem as well. All whale species have a specific whale louse3, which must be as endangered as the whales they inhabit, since those whales are their only habitat. None of them are on the IUCN Redlist. The Galapagos hawk has a skin mite that is almost certainly endangered and not listed. Scientists have now used both of these species to get a better idea of their hosts’ evolutionary history. NPR even did a segment (in 2005) about the parasitologists who were discovering the Galapagos hawks’ past.

There are some parasites that we’re too late to save. When California condors were brought into captivity to save them from extinction in the ‘80s, they were, understandably, deloused. Thus passed Colpocephalum californici, the California condor-chewing louse. The article that described this extinction stated that “…charismatic animals hog conservation dollars; the only ethic that makes the condor more important than its louse is its aesthetic value.” This is a good statement of what led me to start this blog, though when a condor beats out something in “aesthetic value”, you know that thing is ugly.

The simple fact that people are now (within the last few years) worrying about parasite conservation is about all I can ask for. Science magazine reported in 2004 that, based on average parasite levels, there are approximately 6,300 coendangered species that don’t appear on any list. I suppose the easiest conservation method is to save their hosts. And watch out for the little guys.

1Because, quite frankly, who’s going to call an almost microscopic animal “pygmy”?
2Should I be surprised this exists?
3Actually crustaceans that cling onto the whale’s face, creating crusty white patches.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Lol. Great post. Your posts always make me laugh.