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  All collected specimens have been archived in the OSU Acarology collection, so they are available for any future researcher who wants to dive deeper into noses.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.

Itchy noses – a perfect ecosystem for mites & ticks?

Mites on occasion have become extreme specialists in selecting the places where they live. Take the noses of vertebrates. It may not seem much, but a wide variety of mites call it home. Mites can do different things while in the nose. Rhinoseius and some Proctolaelaps species use hummingbird noses to move from flower to flower.

hummingbird sticking bill into red flower

Hummingbird sticking its “nose” into a flower (did you know that the nostrils of birds are located at the base of the bill?)

The mites race up or down the bill when the bird is feeding to get in or out of the nose as they move between flowers. Nice and fast transportation but it can be tricky. If a male ends up in a flower already occupied by males of a different species they may get attacked and killed. As always make sure you get off at the right bus stop.

Dispersal is also the goal for some Halarachnidae living in seals. They live most of their lives in the lungs, but larvae will crawl up into the nose and get dispersed by sneezing. It is not sure whether they irritate the nose and make the seals sneeze or whether they just take advantage of seal sneezing.  This form of dispersal is of course a bit random.  For example, a paper from 1985 described a case where an ophthalmologist recovered a halarachnid mite from the eye of a patient with severe eye discomfort.  The man had been watching the walrus exhibit at Sea World.  Moral of the story: be aware of flying debris when visiting the seal exhibit.

Most nose-inhabiting mites are true parasites. Some chiggers (Trombiculidae) are found only in noses. So do most species of Gastronyssidae, although I have collected some skating around on the eyeball of fruitbats, and 1-2 others appear exclusive to the stomach of such bats. In birds we sometimes see a split in microhabitat: Rhinonyssidae live in the slimy parts of the nostrils, Ereynetidae skate on top of the slime, and Turbinoptidae live in the dryer section further down.

rhinonyssid mite from nose of pigeon

Rhinonyssid mite from nose of pigeon

Noses are true ecosystems.


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.



Webb, J.P., Jr., Furman, D.P. & Wang, S. (1985) A unique case of human ophthalmic acariasis caused by Orthohalarachne attenuata (Banks, 1910) (Acari: Halarachnidae). Journal of Parasitology, 71 (3), 388-389.