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Keys to the Families and Genera of Blood and Tissue Feeding Mites Associated with Albertan Birds
CJAI 02 June 28, 2006

Wayne Knee*, and Heather Proctor**

University of Alberta, Department of Biological Sciences, CW 405 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton AB Canada, T6G 2E9. *wknee@ualberta.ca, **hproctor@ualberta.ca.

            Birds host a high diversity of symbiotic animals. Next to lice (Insecta: Pthiraptera) the most species-rich group is mites (Arachnida: Acari). There are at least 40 families with approximately 3,000 described species of mites that live in close association with birds (Proctor and Owens 2000). Some groups are benign, like most feather mites (Astigmata: Analgoidea, Pterolichoidea, Freyanoidea), while others feed on blood or tissues damaging the host (Proctor and Owens 2000) and acting as true parasites. The presence and feeding activity of parasitic mites may lead to pathology such as irritation, exsanguination, anemia, allergic reactions, transmission of pathogenic organisms, and death (Yunker 1973; Hutcheson and Oliver 1988; Chirico et al. 2003).

While surveying parasitic mites associated with Albertan birds we recognized a distinct need for an illustrated key to the families and genera of blood and tissue feeding mites associated with North American birds. Since these mites represent an ecological group of diverse taxonomic origins, it is currently necessary to wade through keys to all mite taxa (e.g. How to Know the Mites and Ticks (1979) by B. McDaniel, and A Manual of Acarology (1978) by G. Krantz) to find the scattered keys to the different groups of bird-associated mites. An illustrated gallery of mites associated with raptors (Strigiformes and Falconiformes) can be found at http://raptormites.babson.edu (Philips 2004), but the website does not provide any keys. Our key was created with non-acarologists in mind and provides straightforward identifications that anyone can use, with the right technology. It will be useful to wildlife biologists, veterinarians, and ornithologists interested in identifying bird-associated mites.

Materials and Methods:
We collected approximately 600 Albertan birds contributed by the Alberta Fish & Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, the Royal Alberta Museum, waterfowl hunters, and colleagues at the University of Alberta. Our key is based on examination of washings from about 328 individual birds representing 123 species from 16 orders. There are 402 species of birds in Alberta, thus our sample represents 31% of Alberta’s avian fauna (Royal Alberta Museum 2005).
Birds were maintained at -20ºC until processing. Frozen birds were first thawed and then washed using the following method. The bird was placed in a suitably sized container, ranging from 4-18L, with a drop of dish detergent, enough 95% ethanol to soak the plumage of the bird, and enough water to submerge it. The sealed container was then shaken vigorously for five minutes. Particularly large birds were washed in a basin and thoroughly massaged while in the solution. Each bird was then removed from the container and rinsed thoroughly over a Fisher Scientific 53 µm mesh filter; large birds were rinsed over the washing basin. The washing liquid was filtered through the same 53 µm filter. The container and lid were rinsed thoroughly over the same filter as well. The filtrate was stored in 30 ml scintillation and snap cap vials. For approximately half of the birds that were washed, no particular attention was paid to flushing the respiratory passages to remove nasal mites. For the remainder we ensured that the nasal passages were flushed with 95% ethanol.
Washings were examined using Leica MZ16 and MZ6 dissection microscopes at 20-25x magnification. Blood and tissue feeding mites were removed, and most were cleared in 85% lactic acid for one to twenty four hours depending on the degree of original transparency. Mites were mounted in a polyvinyl alcohol medium (PVA) from Bioquip Products Inc. (6371A). Slides were cured on a slide warmer at about 40ºC for three to four days.
            We made our identifications using a combination of synoptic literature (Krantz 1978; McDaniel 1979) and primary literature (Fain and Elsen 1967; Moss 1978; Pence 1975; Smiley 1970). Images of selected slide-mounted mites were taken with a Canon Powershot S40 digital camera mounted on a Leica DMLB compound microscope with DIC, at 200-400x magnification. Images were captured in the Canon Utilities Remote Capture program, version We edited images using Adobe Photoshop CS version 8.0, Adobe Systems Inc. For a generalized representative of each of the four orders collected, selected mites were drawn using an Intuos 2 Graphics Tablet from WACOM Co., Ltd. and Adobe Photoshop CS version 8.0. Two representative mites were drawn from images taken as described above and the other two mites were redrawn from published literature, one from Smiley (1970) and the second from Moss (1968).

Results and Discussion:
            The key covers 14 genera from 13 families of blood and tissue feeding mites (Table 1). All taxa, with one exception (soft ticks, Argasidae), were collected from our specimens of Albertan bird specimens (Table 2). We collected blood and tissue feeding mites, from 38% of 328 individual bird specimens and 58% of 91 genera examined. Mites of the family Rhinonyssidae were collected from the most bird genera (25), followed by Harpirhynchidae (23 host genera) (Table 2). Harpirhynchids were not identified to genus due to time constraints. Host association records presented here are not intended to be exhaustive since examination of more bird specimens and taxa will undoubtedly reveal additional records.
            Our key to parasitic mites associated with Albertan birds begins with brief section on feather mites, whose families are not covered in the key since feather mites are largely benign (Proctor and Owens 2000). Gaud and Atyeo (1996) developed synoptic keys to feather mite genera of the world. The body of our key has two main parts, the first to families and the second to genera, and is based primarily on adult females. Within the key there are links to labeled diagrams illustrating important morphological characteristics of the four orders of mites collected.

We particularly thank Bob McClymont and the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, as well as the Royal Alberta Museum for providing us with numerous specimens. Dr. David Walter provided information and helpful criticism and Dr. Bruce Heming advice and editing. S. Grundke and S. Wojtkiw washed birds during the summer of 2003, and N. Romaniuk and M. Pedruski did the same during the summer of 2004. G. Williams and H. Shannon allowed us to use a few of their images in the key. We thank Dr. Al Shostak for his assistance in identifying ticks, as well as the use of his facilities. Lastly, we thank Wayne Roberts for providing us with some unique specimens.
We conducted this research with a scientific salvage permit to take migratory birds from Environment Canada (permit no. CWS03-A009), and a permit to salvage found dead wildlife (excluding endangered species) from Alberta Environment (permit no. 428 CN). This project was funded by an NSERC Discovery grant to HCP and an NSERC USRA to W. Knee.

Table 2. The taxa of blood and tissue feeding mites associated with Albertan birds, with the families and genera of hosts from which they were collected.

Chirico, J., H. Eriksson, O. Fossum, and D. Jansson. 2003. The poultry red mite,
Dermanyssus gallinae, a potential vector of Erysipelothrix rhysiopathiae causing erysipelas in hens. Medical and Veterinary Entomology 17: 232-234.

Fain, A., and P. Elsen. 1967. Les acariens de la famille Knemidokoptidae producteurs de
gale chez les oiseaux (Sarcoptiformes). Acta Zoologica Pathologica Antverpiensia 45: 3-145.

Gaud, J., and W.T. Atyeo. 1996. Feather mites of the world (Acarina, Astigmata): the supraspecific taxa. Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Annales, Sciences Zoologiques, 277, Pt. 1, 1-193; Pt. 2. 1-436.

Hutcheson, H.J., and J.H. Oliver. 1988. Spermiogenesis and reproductive biology of
Dermanyssus gallinae (De Geer) (Parasitiformes: Dermanyssidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 25: 321-330.

Krantz, G.W. 1978. A Manual of Acarology. 2nd ed. Oregon State University Book
Stores, Corvallis, Oregon.

McDaniel, B. 1979. How to Know the Mites and Ticks. W.C. Brown Co., Dubuque,

Moss, W.W. 1968. An illustrated key to the species of the acarine genus Dermanyssus
(Mesostigmata: Laelapoidea: Dermanyssidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 5: 67-84.

Moss, W.W. 1978. The mite genus Dermanyssus: a survey, with description of
Dermanyssus trochilinis, n.sp., and a revised key to the species (Acari: Mesostigmata: Dermanyssidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 14: 627-640.

Philips, J.R. 2004. Mites and Raptors. http://raptormites.babson.edu/
(viewed 20 November 2005).

Pence, D.B. 1975. Keys, species and host list, and bibliography for nasal mites of North
American birds (Acarina: Rhinonyssinae, Turbinoptinae, Speleognathinae, and Cytoditidae). Special Publications of the Museum Texas Tech University 8: 1-148.

Proctor, H.C. and I. Owens. 2000. Mites and birds: diversity, parasitism and
coevolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 15: 358-364.

Royal Alberta Museum. 2005. The Official List of the Birds of Alberta.
http://www.royalalbertamuseum.ca/natural/birds/birdlist/taxon.htm (viewed 31 March 2006).

Smiley, R.L. 1970. A review of the family Cheyletiellidae (Acarina). Annals of the
Entomological Society of America 63: 1056-1078.

Yunker, C.E. 1973. Mites. In: Parasites of Laboratory Animals. Flynn, R.J. (ed.) Iowa
State University Press, Ames, pp. 425-492.

| Introduction | Materials and Methods | Results and Discussion | Keys | References | PDF 22.1 MB | Cite this Article |