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Ectoparasites of the Spotted-tailed Quoll

Inger-Marie E. Vilcins, PhD Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Email: ivilcins@bio.mq.edu.au

Abstract

The Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), also known as the Tiger Quoll, is the largest of the Dasyurid family still extant on mainland Australia. The species differs from other related species via the consumption of a purely carnivorous diet and a largely arboreal nature.

In common with all dasyurids, parasitic infestation is widespread throughout all life stages of the quoll. Ectoparasites such as the tick species Ixodes holocyclus and I. tasmani, the louse Boopia uncinata, and the fleas and their larvae Xenopsylla vexabilis and Uropsylla tasmanica, have been found in association with haematological and skin abnormalities.

Heavy infestations by larvae of the flea U. tasmanica have been linked to population declines, caused by larvae burrowing into the skin. After feeding on the induced ulceration they then emerge causing significant tissue damage and secondary infection.

Louse infestation with B. uncinata is frequently associated with poor health and other underlying illness. Abnormal skin pathology as a result of demodex-like mite infestation causing the formation of nodules has been described in both the spotted-tailed quoll and antechinus (Antechinus stuartii).

Skin sampling and analysis from a NSW quoll population suffering from a widespread mange-like condition found the presence of the mites Dasyurochirus major and Myocoptes musculinus. Originally described on the Spotted-tailed Quoll in 1972, the mite D. major was found in large numbers around facial mange-like lesions. The record of M. musculinus was the first of its kind on a non-rodent host, a mite known for causing myocoptic mange in rodents. In affected quolls eosinophilic infiltration and skin thickening was described at lesion sites, similar in presentation to IgE anaphylactic reactions encountered in rodents suffering from myocoptic mange.

Tick parasitisation is equally abundant and can cause localized skin damage, scarring and secondary infection. The effects of pro-longed infestation are not yet known. However, reduced growth rate and altered haemocrit and white blood cell levels have been described in the Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isodoon macrourus). Heavy tick infestation has also been found to result in anaemia in the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus).

Numerous tick and flea species known to infest quolls have been found to carry potentially pathogenic agents, including various Rickettsia and Ehrlichia sp., carried by the Ixodes ticks. To date no studies have been conducted on the potential impacts of such potential pathogens to the health and survival of the Spotted-tailed Quoll.

Given the heavy parasite burdens recorded in Spotted-tailed Quoll populations and the potential impacts they have on their health, ectoparasites require consideration when contemplating long-term management strategies.

References

Vilcins, I, Old, J. M. & Deane, E. M. (2005) The impact of ticks and tick-borne diseases on native animal species in Australia. Microbiology Australia. June edition.

Vilcins, I., Körtner, G., Deane, E. M., and Old, J. M. (Submitted) Two species of astigmatid mites found in association with a mange-like condition affecting the Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) in Eastern Australia.

Vilcins, I.E. (PhD Completion 2008) Ectoparasites and their impact on health and survival of endangered Australian animals.

Page last updated: 27 February 2011