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How do ectoparasitic nycteribiids locate their bat hosts?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2008

Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
*Corresponding author: Tel: 00351 217500000. E-mail:


Nycteribiids (Diptera: Nycteribiidae) are specific haematophagous ectoparasites of bats, which spend nearly all their adult lives on hosts. However, females have to leave bats to deposit their larva on the walls of the roosts, where they later emerge as adult flies. Nycteribiids had thus to evolve efficient sensorial mechanisms to locate hosts from a distance. We studied the sensory cues involved in this process, experimentally testing the role of specific host odours, and general cues such as carbon dioxide, body heat, and vibrations. As models we used two nycteribiids (Penicillidia conspicua and Penicillidia dufourii) and their primary bat hosts (Miniopterus schreibersii and Myotis myotis, respectively). Carbon dioxide was the most effective cue activating and orientating the responses of nycteribiids, followed by body heat and body odours. They also responded to vibration, but did not orientate to its source. In addition, sensory cues combined (carbon dioxide and body heat) were more effective in orientating nycteribiids than either cue delivered alone. Results suggest that nycteribids have some capacity to distinguish specific hosts from a distance, probably through their specific body odours. However, the strong reliance of nycteribiids on cues combined indicates that they follow these to orientate to nearby multispecies bat clusters, where the chances of finding their primary hosts are high. The combination of sensory cues seems therefore an effective strategy used by nycteribiids to locate bat hosts at a distance.

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Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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