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Am Nat. 2010 Oct;176(4):529-35. doi: 10.1086/656269.

Evolution of cryptic coloration in ectoparasites.

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Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 66045, USA.


Cryptic coloration is a classic example of evolution by natural selection. However, it has been studied almost exclusively in predator-prey systems, despite the fact that it may evolve in other groups, such as ectoparasites. The principle defense of hosts against ectoparasites is grooming behavior, which has a visual component. Host-imposed selection should lead to the evolution of background matching if it helps ectoparasites escape from grooming. Here we use sister taxa comparisons to show that avian feather lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera) have evolved coloration that matches the host's plumage, except in the case of head lice, which are protected from grooming. We also show covariation of parasite and host color within a single species of louse. Thus, cryptic coloration has evolved both within and between species of feather lice. Other examples of the evolution of crypsis presumably exist among the 70,000 known species of ectoparasites that collectively represent five animal phyla.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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