Feather mites - little known ectoparasites in birds

Research project "Biodiversity of feather mites

There are almost no studies on the biology and way of life of feather mites and feather coil mites. There is also contradictory information about their harmful effects. On the one hand, they are classified as non-pathogenic, harmless inhabitants of the skin and feathers (commensals), which normally do not cause any problems for the host bird, on the other hand, considerable destruction of the feathers is reported (parasites). As feather mites are very old ectoparasites, eggs have been found on a 120 million year old fossilised feather from a feathered dinosaur (e.g. Caudipteryx, found in China in 1998), they are particularly suitable for basic research on phylogenetic relationships both in feather mites and in host bird species. This should provide further insights into the nature and origin of parasitism as a life form.

The aim of the project is to further investigate the biodiversity, morphology, lifestyle and veterinary significance of these little-known ectoparasites, especially of native wild birds. As many different species as possible should be collected, prepared and documented (permanent specimens, photos) in order to build up a research collection of these mites. The collected data will be processed in a suitable way and made available worldwide via the internet. For this purpose, a separate website (www.federmilben.de) will be set up. Existing knowledge is to be made accessible and usable (creation of a literature database).

Results of this research project have been published in 18 publications so far. The publication "Feather mites in finches" by the authors Dr. Richard Schöne, Dr. Volker Schmidt, Margit Sachse and Dr. Ronald Schmäschke was awarded the Steinbacher Prize in 2013. This prize is awarded by an expert commission to the best contribution to the journal "Gefiederte Welt" on a general topic, such as systematics, behaviour, feeding, diseases, bird conservation and ecology.

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