, 5:205 | Cite as

Transmission Efficiency of Two Flea Species (Oropsylla tuberculata cynomuris and Oropsylla hirsuta) Involved in Plague Epizootics among Prairie Dogs

  • Aryn P. WilderEmail author
  • Rebecca J. Eisen
  • Scott W. Bearden
  • John A. Montenieri
  • Daniel W. Tripp
  • R. Jory Brinkerhoff
  • Kenneth L. Gage
  • Michael F. Antolin
Original Contribution


Plague, caused by Yersinia pestis, is an exotic disease in North America circulating predominantly in wild populations of rodents and their fleas. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are highly susceptible to infection, often experiencing mortality of nearly all individuals in a town as a result of plague. The fleas of black-tailed prairie dogs are Oropsylla tuberculata cynomuris and Oropsylla hirsuta. We tested the efficiency of O. tuberculata cynomuris to transmit Y. pestis daily from 24 to 96 h postinfection and compared it to previously collected data for O. hirsuta. We found that O. tuberculata cynomuris has over threefold greater transmission efficiency (0.18 infected fleas transmit Y. pestis at 24 h postinfection) than O. hirsuta (0.05 fleas transmit). Using a simple model of flea-borne transmission, we combine these laboratory measurements with field data on monthly flea loads to compare the seasonal vectorial capacity of these two flea species. Coinciding with seasonal patterns of flea abundance, we find a peak in potential for flea-borne transmission in March, during high O. tuberculata cynomuris abundance, and in September–October when O. hirsuta is common. Our findings may be useful in determining the timing of insecticidal dusting to slow plague transmission in black-tailed prairie dogs.


prairie dog flea plague seasonality insecticidal dusting 



We thank C.T. Webb, W.C. Black IV, A.M. Meyer, and D.J. Salkeld for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript, and A.B. Markeson for collection of flea load data. S.K. Collinge and C. Ray provided valuable methodological advice regarding prairie dog trapping and flea collection. Transmission studies were supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flea load data collection was supported by the National Science Foundation Ecology of Infectious Diseases program (EID 0327052) to M.F.A. and K.L.G., and Shortgrass Steppe Long Term Ecological Research (DEB 0217631) to Colorado State University. Funding to R.J.B. was provided by the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) STAR program of the US-EPA (R-82909101-0) and the NSF/NIH joint program in Ecology of Infectious Diseases (DEB-0224328).


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Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aryn P. Wilder
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rebecca J. Eisen
    • 1
  • Scott W. Bearden
    • 1
  • John A. Montenieri
    • 1
  • Daniel W. Tripp
    • 2
  • R. Jory Brinkerhoff
    • 3
  • Kenneth L. Gage
    • 1
  • Michael F. Antolin
    • 2
  1. 1.Bacterial Diseases Branch, Division of Vector-Borne Infectious DiseasesNational Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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