Activity periods and questing behavior of the seabird tick Ixodes uriae (Acari: Ixodidae) on Gull Island, Newfoundland: the role of puffin chicks

Sabir B Muzaffar, Ian L Jones
Journal of Parasitology 2007, 93 (2): 258-64
Questing behavior of Ixodes uriae and their associated seasonal, host-feeding patterns are crucial to our understanding of tick life history strategies and the ecology of diseases that they transmit. Consequently, we quantified questing behavior of nymphs and adult female I. uriae ticks at Gull Island, a seabird colony in Newfoundland, Canada, to examine seasonal variation of off-host and on-host tick activity. We sampled a total of 133 adult Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica), 152 puffin chicks, and 145 herring gull (Larus argentatus) chicks for ticks during the breeding seasons of 2004 and 2005. Questing ticks were sampled by dragging a white flannel cloth across the grassy breeding areas during the mo of May, June, July, and August. Nymph questing activity reached a peak during mid-July (79 and 110 individuals/hr in 2004 and 2005, respectively). The prevalence of nymphs and adult female ticks on different seabird hosts varied between years and during the seasons. Puffin chicks had the highest prevalence (above 70% in July) of nymphs in both years and this was correlated with questing activity. Female ticks rarely fed on puffin chicks, but were prevalent on adult puffins and gulls, although prevalence and questing of ticks were not correlated in these hosts. These patterns of off-host and on-host tick activity suggests that I. uriae ticks likely use a combination of questing and passive waiting, e.g., in puffin burrows, to detect hosts, depending on the tick stage and the host species.

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