Ticks on snakes

the ecological correlates of ectoparasite infection in free-ranging snakes in tropical Australia

Daniel J. D. Natusch, Jessica A. Lyons, Sylvain Dubey, Richard Shine

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Abstract

Parasites profoundly influence the lives of their hosts, yet the dynamics of host–parasite interactions are poorly understood – especially in reptiles. We examined the ecological correlates of parasitism by ixodid ticks in an assemblage of 10 snake species in tropical Australia. In total, we recorded 3803 ticks on 1841 individual snakes of six species (no ticks were found on the other species). Molecular analyses confirmed the tropical reptile tick (Amblyomma fimbriatum: Ixodidae) to be the most common snake tick at our study site, with inter- and intraspecific variation in tick prevalence and intensity. Tick attachment sites were random on most snake species, but both male and female ticks congregated on the heads of the colubrid snake Boiga irregularis and the python Simalia amethistina. In these same species, tick loads were higher on snakes captured in woodland than in rainforest. Females of two python species (Aspidites melanocephalus and S. amethistina) had higher tick loads than did males. In B. irregularis, individuals captured in the dry season had higher tick loads than those captured in the wet season. In most parasitized snake species, larger individuals had greater tick loads. Data from snake recaptures confirmed individual tick burdens frequently varied, with little correlation between tick loads on the same snake at successive captures (except for B. irregularis). Finally, tick intensity was not correlated with (and thus, presumably did not influence) the body condition of any snake species in our study. Use of specific types of refuge sites may strongly influence tick loads on snakes in this system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-546
Number of pages13
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume43
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes

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Keywords

  • Amblyomma fimbriatum
  • Cape York
  • ectoparasite
  • host–parasite
  • Ixodida
  • rainforest

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