Dorsum of female Ptilonyssus hirsti, from Silveira dos Santos et al. (2018); scale bar = 250 µm.

Belongs within: Rhinonyssidae.

Ferreting up a bird’s nose
Published 1 February 2019

Mites, as I may have commented before, seem to have an almost fractal level of diversity: the closer you look, the more there is of it. This is nowhere more apparent than when it comes to parasitic mites which infest almost any host in any way that you can imagine. For the subject of this post, I drew one such mite: the honeyeater nasal mite Ptilonyssus myzanthae.

Venter (left) and dorsum of female Ptilonyssus myzanthae, from Domrow (1964). The scale bar equals 500 µm.

Bird nasal mites of the family Rhinonyssidae are, as their name indicates, inhabitants of the nasal passages of birds. General adaptations of the family for their parasitic lifestyle include tendencies towards reduction of the body sclerotisation and reduction in the length and number of setae. They use the claws on their front legs to tear openings in the host’s mucous membranes and then feed on its blood. Transmission of nasal mites seems to happen during bill-to-bill contact such as when parents are feeding their young or during mating activities, or indirectly through water or on the surface of perches or the like. Rhinonyssid nasal mites are not known to transmit any actual diseases between hosts but they can cause the formation of lesions or inflammation or the like. All in all, probably not very pleasant for the bird (see here for some more details).

Whole-body illustration of a different rhinonyssid species, from Greg Spicer.

Nevertheless, infection rates in bird populations can be very high and most (if not all) bird species will be host to some nasal mite species. Most species of nasal mite are very host specific, known on only one or a few bird species (it must be noted, though, that the question of just how many researchers choose to look up a bird’s schnozz in search of mites may not be irrelevant here). Ptilonyssus myzanthae was described by Domrow (1964) from two species of honeyeater in Queensland, Australia: the noisy miner Manorina melanocephala and the little wattlebird Anthochaera chrysoptera. Distinctive features of this species compared to others in the genus include a subhexagonal anterior dorsal shield on the body, a narrow genital shield, and a divided pygidial shield (the small pair of shields near the rear of the dorsum). Both of the known hosts are widespread and common in eastern Australia and it is likely that this mite is similarly ubiquitous. Studies of honeyeater phylogeny tend to place the genera Manorina and Anthochaera as close relatives, so it is possible that P. myzanthae has been infesting them since before their lineages diverged. It would be worth looking for the species in other related honeyeaters to see if we find any further clues.

Systematics of Ptilonyssus
<==Ptilonyssus Berlese & Trouessart 1889 [incl. Rhinonyssoides Hirst 1921]H98
    |--*P. echinatus Berlese & Trouessart 1889ET79
    |--P. acrocephali Fain 1964H98
    |--P. ailuroedi Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. astridae Fain 1956 [=Paraneonyssus astridae]H98
    |--P. balimoensis Sakakibara 1968H98
    |--P. bradypteri (Fain 1962) [=Passeronyssus bradypteri]H98
    |--P. buloloensis Sakakibara 1968H98
    |--P. capitatus (Strandtmann 1956) [=Paraneonyssus capitatus]H98
    |--P. cerchneis Fain 1957 [=Rhinonyssoides cerchneis]H98
    |--P. cinnyris Zumpt & Till 1955 [=Rhinonyssoides cinnyris]H98
    |--P. colluricinclae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. condylocoxa Fain & Lukoschus 1979H98
    |--P. conopophilae Fain & Lukoschus 1979H98
    |--P. constrictus Ford 1961F61
    |--P. corcoracis Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. cractici Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. dicaei Domrow 1966H98
    |--P. dicruri Fain 1956 [=Passeronyssus dicruri, Ptilonyssoides dicruri]H98
    |--P. dioptrornis Fain 1956 [=Ptilonyssoides dioptrornis]H98
    |--P. emberizae Fain 1956 [=Paraneonyssus emberizae]H98
    |--P. gerygonae Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. gliciphilae Domrow 1966H98
    |--P. grallinae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. hirsti (de Castro & Periera 1947) [=Neonyssus hirsti, Paraneonyssus hirsti]H98
    |--P. japuibensis Castro 1948F61
    |--P. lanii Zumpt & Till 1955F61
    |--P. lymozemae Domrow 1965H98
    |--P. macclurei Fain 1963H98
    |--P. maluri Domrow 1965H98
    |--P. meliphagae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. microecae Domrow 1966H98
    |--P. monarchae Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. motacillae Fain 1956 [incl. P. estrildicola taeniopygiae Fain 1963]H98
    |--P. myzanthae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. myzomelae Domrow 1965H98
    |--P. neochmiae Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. ohioensisLKW09
    |--P. orthonychus Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. philemoni Domrow 1964 [incl. P. pentagonicus Fain & Lukoschus 1979]H98
    |--P. pittae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. pseudothymanzae Fain & Lukoschus 1979H98
    |--P. psophodae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. pycnonoti Fain 1956F63
    |--P. rhipidurae Domrow 1966H98
    |--P. ruandae Fain 1956H98
    |--P. sairae Castro 1948F61
    |--P. setosae Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. sittae Fain 1965H98
    |--P. sphecotheris Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. stomioperae Domrow 1966H98
    |--P. stresemanniF63
    |--P. struthideae Domrow 1969H98
    |--P. sturnopastoris Fain 1963H98
    |--P. terpsiphonei Fain 1956H98
    |--P. thymanzae Domrow 1964H98
    |--P. triscutatus (Vitzthum 1935) [=Ptilonyssoides triscutatus]H98
    `--P. trouessarti (Hirst 1921) [=Rhinonyssoides trouessarti]H98

*Type species of generic name indicated


Domrow, R. 1964. Fourteen species of Ptilonyssus from Australian birds (Acarina, Laelapidae). Acarologia 6 (4): 595–623.

[ET79] Evans, G. O., & W. M. Till. 1979. Mesostigmatic mites of Britain and Ireland (Chelicerata: Acari-Parasitiformes). An introduction to their external morphology and classification. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 35: 139–270.

[F63] Fain, A. 1963. Ptilonyssus sturnopastoris sp. nov., parasite d’un oiseau asiatique (Rhinonyssidae: Mesostigmata). Acarologia 5 (1): 1–4.

[F61] Ford, H. G. 1961. Ptilonyssus constrictus, a new species of avian nasal mite (Acarina, Rhinonyssidae). Acarologia 3 (2): 139–146.

[H98] Halliday, R. B. 1998. Mites of Australia: A checklist and bibliography. CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood.

[LKW09] Lindquist, E. E., G. W. Krantz & D. E. Walter. 2009. Order Mesostigmata. In: Krantz, G. W., & D. E. Walter (eds) A Manual of Acarology 3rd ed. pp. 124–232. Texas Tech University Press.

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