Studies on the ectoparasites of seals and penguins. 1. The ecology of the louse Lepidophthirus macrorhini Enderlein on the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina (L)
MD Murray and DG Nicholls
Australian Journal of Zoology
13(3) 437 - 454
Although the southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, that breed on Macquarie I., come ashore for only 3-5 weeks twice a year, the hind flippers of most of them are infested with the blood-sucking louse Lepidophthirus macrorhini. L. macrorhini does not oviposit, and eggs do not hatch, in water. Reproduction occurs when the elephant seal is ashore on the beach or in the adjacent tussock. The life cycle can be completed in c. 3 weeks and, because 6-9 eggs are laid daily, multiplication can be rapid. Temperatures greater than 25°C are required for rapid multiplication, and these temperatures occur more frequently on the hind flippers than elsewhere on the body. The number of L. macrorhini on a hind flipper however rarely exceeds 100. The principal causes of mortality of the lice are failure to survive the seal's prolonged stay at sea, the moult of the seal, and transmission to unfavourable sites on the seal. When an elephant seal goes to sea its skin temperature falls to nearly that of the sea. The reduction in the metabolic rate of the louse at low temperatures results in the amount of oxygen obtained from the sea by cutaneous respiration being sufficient for survival. The lice do not enter into a state of complete suspended animation, and a blood meal is required at least once a week to enable sufficient to survive to repopulate the seal. The skin temperature of a seal at sea rises more frequently on the flippers than elsewhere on the body because of the increased rate of blood flow to the flippers after diving and whenever it is necessary to dissipate heat. Consequently, there are more opportunities for the lice on the hind flippers to feed. L. macrorhini burrows into the stratum corneum, thus reducing losses to the population when the elephant seal annually sheds the outer layers of the stratum corneum attached to the hair, because only the roof of the burrow is lost. Lice do not reproduce on the older seals that moult in muddy wallows, and consequently fewer lice are found on these animals. Pups are infested within a few days of birth, and the gregarious habits of the elephant seal spread infestations through the seal population. Lice transfer to all parts of the bodies of seals but it is the multiplication of those on the flippers that maintains the louse population. The abundance of L. macrorhini is determined largely by the frequency and duration of opportunities to reproduce when the elephant seal is ashore, and to feed when the elephant seal is at sea.
Full text doi:10.1071/ZO9650437
© CSIRO 1965