In this composite photograph, a rock pigeon preening its feathers is superimposed on a closeup image of a rock pigeon feather with lice trying to hide between feather branches to escape preening.
Credit: Dale H. Clayton and Sarah E. Bush, University of Utah
Study Shows Why Each Parasite Species Often Infests a Favorite Host Species
University of Utah biologists twirled louse-infested bird feathers on an electric fan and flew pigeons and doves like kites on strings in a study that found small lice stick to small birds and big lice prefer big birds.
The study also showed why size matters to parasites: Lice infest bird species with feathers that are just the right size so the insects can hide between individual “barbs” – the hair-like branches that extend from the shaft of each feather. When lice can hide in the feathers, the birds cannot preen them off with their beaks.
Lee Siegel | University of Utah
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