more itchy noses – ticks and lemurs

As a follow-up to my previous post, here is another odd case involving mites and noses.  Most of the mites mentioned in the last post are small, but Dr. Randall Junge, Dept. of Animal Health at the Columbus Zoo, and collaborators found ticks in the noses of some wild lemurs (sifaka, Propithecus diadema) in Madagascar.

Ticks in noses of great apes, and even one case of a tick in the nose of a human, had been reported before, but it seemed to be relatively rare.  This was not.  The majority of sifakas at one site had one or more ticks in their noses, and all of these ticks were males of Haemaphysalis lemuris.  Females and nymphs of that species are found on the sifakas, but never in the nose.  Members of the other tick species Ixodes lemuris regularly parasitizing these sifakas have never been found in the nose either.

The numbers were also impressive.  The average number per nose was about 7-8, but our record holder had 31 ticks, which makes one wonder how the host could even breathe.

Of course male ticks do not feed a lot, so damage in terms of feeding should be limited.

Haemaphysalis lemuris males in nose Propithecus diadema (photo Lydia Green)

Haemaphysalis lemuris males in nose Propithecus diadema (photo Lydia Green)

It is interesting to speculate on why we see this behavior. One possibility has to do with finding mates.  Male ticks have to search their host for available females, and attaching in the nose might be a good strategy to find females on other sifakas in the group.  After all, these lemurs do sniff each other a lot, bringing noses and bodies in close contact.  At this point we have no evidence for that idea, and we do not even know if this phenomenon is widespread or largely limited in the one population studied.  As so often, one odd observation triggers many more questions.  The phenomenon was sufficiently weird that it got included in a short paper on ectoparasites of diademed sifakas published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.  All collected specimens have been archived in the OSU Acarology collection, so they are available for any future researcher who wants to dive deeper into noses.

As a final note, the only record of a mite in a human nose is the one mentioned above, a single tick in a single human. Of all the things to worry about, this is not a major one.

About the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.


Klompen, H., Junge, R. E., & Williams, C. V. (2015). Ectoparasites of Propithecus diadema (Primates: Indriidae) with notes on unusual attachment site selection by Haemaphysalis lemuris (Parasitiformes: Ixodidae). Journal of medical entomology, tjv032.

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