Seasonal dynamics and variation among sheep in densities of the sheep biting louse, Bovicola ovis

P. J. James, R. D. Moon, D. R. Brown

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Cyclic patterns and variations among sheep in numbers of Bovicola ovis are described in Polypay and Columbia ewes that were initially infested with equal numbers of lice and penned indoors continuously for 2 years. Bovicola ovis populations were censused at 3-4-week intervals at 69 body sites on each animal. In the second year of the study, the ewes were reinfested and half were mated. Louse populations were monitored on the resulting lambs from birth until 25 weeks of age. Strong seasonal cycles in louse numbers were observed on the ewes, with peaks in spring and troughs in summer. These cycles occurred in the absence of shearing, direct solar radiation or rainfall. Populations began to decline when daily mean and maximum temperatures were 11.5°C and 15°C, respectively, well below temperatures thought to cause warm season decline. Louse densities on Polypay ewes were approximately 10 times higher than on Columbias at most inspections. There were also large differences among sheep within breeds and sheep counts were highly correlated among dates, both within and between years. One third of the ewes failed to become infested despite having lice applied on five separate occasions and being penned together with other infested sheep. Pregnancy and lactation did not significantly affect louse numbers on the ewes. There was a significant negative correlation between louse counts and weight gains in the lambs, and lamb counts were significantly correlated with those of their dams up until, but not after, weaning. It is suggested that sheep may exert regulatory influences on lice which contribute to cycles in B. ovis populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-292
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1998


  • Mallophaga
  • Population dynamics
  • Sheep susceptibility

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