, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 245-265

The Ectoparasites of the European Badger, Meles meles , and the Behavior of the Host-Specific Flea, Paraceras melis

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Abstract

The badger-specific flea, Paraceras melis, jumps repeatedly when separated from its host Meles meles; thereafter fleas settled into sheltered positions. After separation from badgers, some 42% of fleas (n = 63) voided their gut contents; this was associated with a significant increase in mean jumping distance. The maximum longevity of fleas away from the host was 89 days, with 50% mortality at around 35 days. Badger lice, Trichodectes melis, survived for up to 3 days postcapture. We conclude that the badger's habit of frequently swapping dens with a mean period of return of 6 days is unlikely to bring about significant mortality of adult fleas but may effectively eradicate lice. Fleas abandoned in “bedding” in a simulated badger sett were mobile, being drawn toward light and moving upward. This response would draw the fleas to the den entrance, which may be a suitable site to intercept returning badgers. The fleas responded to stimuli which might signal the proximity of the host: they jumped toward sources of carbon dioxide and of carbon dioxide in air current directed at the flea. The strongest response was seen when a mixture of stimuli consisting of carbon dioxide, a dark circle of card, and movement were tested; the majority of fleas jumped toward the mixed stimulus. Finally, fleas separated from the host responded to exhaled air by running and jumping; this is in marked contrast to their response to those stimuli when on the host, when fleas run downward and very rarely jump. These contrasting observations find adaptive explanation in the two contexts.