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2006 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 5(1):157–164
Cuterebra fontinella Parasitism on Peromyscus leucopus
and Ochrotomys nuttalli
CHAD A. JENNISON1, LUIS R. RODAS1, AND GARY W. BARRETT1,*
Abstract - Peromyscus leucopus (white-footed mice) and Ochrotomys nuttalli
(golden mice) were live-trapped in eight experimental plots of lowland and upland
deciduous forest during 2001 and 2004. An outbreak of Cuterebra fontinella (botfly)
parasitism occurred on both species of small mammals during the 2001 and 2004
trapping seasons, with peaks in mid-July each year. A second peak of parasitism was
observed in late October 2004, which differed greatly from 2001 where only one
peak occurred. We suggest that a greater three-dimensional home-range size and
pattern of behavioral activity exhibited by P. leucopus led to a greater incidence of
parasitism (41.7%) compared to the more arboreal O. nuttalli (6.3%–12.5%). The
second outbreak of parasitism appeared to have been the result of a late-summer
deluge of tropical weather caused by an exceptionally active hurricane season affecting
the southeastern United States.
Three species of Cuterebra are known to infect Peromyscus leucopus
Rafinesque (white-footed mice) and Ochrotomys nuttalli Harlan (golden
mice), namely C. fontinella Clark, C. angustifrons Dalmat, and C. grisea
Coquillett (Catts 1982). Our study focused on C. fontinella. Botfly (Cuterebridae)
parasitism of small mammals has been studied since the 1940s
(Dalmat 1943, Hunter and Webster 1973, Miller and Getz 1969, Timm and
Lee 1981, Wecker 1962, Wolf and Batzli 2001, Xia and Millar 1990). Many
questions remain unanswered, however, such as how small mammal movement
behavior influences rates of parasitism, how rates of parasitism are
influenced by weather conditions, and how patterns of parasitism compare
across temporal and spatial scales.
Although many studies have investigated the effects of Cuterebra on P.
leucopus (Barko 2003, Dunaway et al. 1967, Miller and Getz 1969, Munger
and Karasov 1991, Timm and Cook 1979, Wecker 1962), few of these
studies were conducted in the southeastern United States, and no study was
related to the effect of tropical weather on rates of parasitism in this area.
Even fewer studies have investigated botfly parasitism on Ochrotomys
nuttalli (but see Clark and Darden 2002, Dunaway et al. 1967). Both P.
leucopus and O. nuttalli were parasitized by C. fontinella during our investigation.
Dunaway et al. (1967) is the only study that compared rates of
parasitism between these two small mammal species. They found that 24.7%
of P. leucopus were parasitized during a seven-year study, while < 1.5% O.
nuttalli individuals were parasitized.
1Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2202. *Corresponding
author - email@example.com.
158 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 1
Our study addressed the need to quantify and compare rates of parasitism
between P. leucopus and O. nuttalli, to investigate how aspects of small
mammal behavior might influence rates of parasitism, to document the
effects of weather conditions related to hurricanes on frequency of parasitism,
and to expand knowledge about botfly parasitism in the southeastern
The HorseShoe Bend (HSB) Ecological Research Site located in
Clarke County near Athens, GA (33°57'N, 83°23'W) served as the site of
this study. HSB is located in a 14.2-hectare riverine peninsula formed by
a meander of the North Oconee River. Upland and bottomland deciduous
forests characterize this peninsula. Though the bottomland is prone to
flooding, recent droughts in the southeastern United States prevented
flooding during the 2001 and 2004 periods of study. Both habitats are
dominated by Smilax spp. (greenbriar), Lonicera mackii (Rupr.) Herder
(honeysuckle), Quercus nigra L. (water oak), and Ligustrum sinense
Lour. (Chinese privet). Q. alba L. (white oak) and Fagus grandifolia
Ehrh. (American beech) are also abundant in the upland, whereas Betula
nigra L. (river birch) and Liriodendron tulipifera L. (tulip poplar) are
common in the bottomland (Klee et al. 2004).
Materials and Methods
Four 0.21-ha experimental grids were established in each of the bottomland
and upland habitats. Each grid consisted of 12 trapping stations, with
live traps located at approximately 10-m (± 2 m) intervals along two parallel
transects. Each station consisted of two Sherman live traps (7.6 x 7.6 x 25.4
cm; H.B. Sherman Traps, Inc. Tallahassee, FL): one trap situated on a
platform 1.5 m high on the trunk of a tree and the second trap located on the
ground within 2 m of the base of the same tree.
Live trapping was conducted twice weekly from 29 March to 16 November
2001, and 17 March to 3 November 2004. Traps were baited with black
oil sunflower seed, set before dark, and checked the following morning.
Date and location of captured P. leucopus and O. nuttalli were recorded, and
the mice were marked with ear tags for identification, sexed, weighed to the
nearest g, examined for reproductive condition (open or closed vaginal
orifice, abdominal or scrotal testes, pregnant, and/or lactating), and examined
for general health (particularly the presence of botflies). Captured
animals were released at the site of capture immediately following examination.
All animals were handled in accordance with the guidelines provided
by the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM Animal Care and Use
Committee 1998). Although other species of small mammals were captured,
we restricted our analysis to P. leucopus and O. nuttalli.
2006 C.A. Jennison, L.R. Rodas, and G.W. Barrett 159
Mean population densities of P. leucopus and O. nuttalli, as well as
frequency of botfly parasitism per grid, were estimated by minimumnumber-
known-alive methods (MNKA; Krebs 1996). The frequency of
parasitism for each small mammal species was calculated weekly, including
the percentage of each species parasitized.
Weather data were provided by a weather station at The Horticulture
Research Farm, University of Georgia, Watkinsville, GA, located approximately
11.7 kilometers (7.0 miles) from HSB.
A repeated measures ANOVA (SAS, alpha = 0.05) was used to test for
differences between proportion of P. leucopus and O. nuttalli parasitized
within the two individual years (Zar 1996). Additionally, we conducted a
t-test to determine whether observed differences within each species between
the two years were significant.
Population densities of P. leucopus and O. nuttalli were based on 13,056
trap-nights in 2001 and 6432 trap-nights in 2004. In 2001, the maximum
mean density per grid for P. leucopus was 23.1 individuals (22–28 April);
the maximum mean density for O. nuttalli was 12.3 individuals per grid
(20–26 May; Fig. 1A). Each population steadily declined to 1.5 (11–17
November) and 0.3 (21 October–6 November) mean individuals per grid,
respectively. Similar trends were observed during 2004 when P. leucopus
and O. nuttalli mean population densities per grid peaked at 34.3 (28 March–
3 April) and 6.1 (14–20 March), respectively. Each population declined to
1.9 (31 October–6 November) and 0.3 (31 October–6 November) individuals
per grid, respectively.
Botfly parasitism of P. leucopus in 2001 first occurred during 3–9 June,
and the last occurrence was observed during the week of 12–18 August
(Fig. 1B). The highest proportion of parasitism occurred during 15–21 July
(37.1%). Parasitism of O. nuttalli began 17–23 June and lasted until 12–18
August, when the highest proportion of parasitism occurred (23.3%). In
2004, however, the first parasitism of P. leucopus occurred 6–12 June; the
proportion increased to a maximum of 20.7% (27 June–3 July) and declined
to zero during 22–28 August. Unexpectedly, parasitism was again
observed beginning 5–11 September. This late-season parasitism peaked at
41.7% during 17–23 October and lasted through the end of the trapping
period (Fig. 1B). Parasitism of O. nuttalli during 2004 was first observed
during 13–19 June, reached a peak of 3.6% (18–24 July), and declined to
zero during 15–21 August. Proportions of late-season parasitism of O.
nuttalli were 6.3% during 25 August–11 September, 6.3% during 3–9
October, and 12.5% during 17–30 October.
Peromyscus leucopus were parasitized more often than O. nuttalli during
2001 (F = 0.24, df = 33, p < 0.01). In 2004, P. leucopus were also parasitized
160 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 1
2006 C.A. Jennison, L.R. Rodas, and G.W. Barrett 161
more frequently than O. nuttalli (F = 3.59, df = 33, p < 0.01). Additionally,
P. leucopus were parasitized more frequently in 2004 than 2001 (p < 0.05).
Conversely, O. nuttalli did not show a significant difference in proportion
parasitized between the two years (p = 0.77).
These late-season pulses of parasitism appear to be associated with the
increased minimum temperature (Fig. 1C) and increased weekly rainfall
(Fig. 1D) observed during 2004 compared to 2001. For example, in 2004, the
southeastern United States was impacted by numerous tropical storms and
hurricanes. These storms brought warm, humid air from tropical ocean
waters, resulting in increased precipitation and higher air temperature. Average
weekly rainfall during 9 August to 6 November 2004 was 3.8 cm, with
minimum temperatures well above the minimum temperature of 15 °C
needed for botfly egg survival (Catts 1982) until 19 September 2004. The
average weekly rainfall for the same period during 2001 was 0.6 cm, and the
average minimum was about 4 °C cooler than during 2004.
The mean population density of P. leucopus was significantly larger than O.
nuttalli at our experimental research site. P. leucopus was also more frequently
parasitized than O. nuttalli. Because O. nuttalli has a smaller, more arboreal
home-range compared to P. leucopus (Goodpaster and Hoffmeister 1954,
Lackey et al. 1985, Pruett et al. 2002) and because golden mice prefer dense
canopies containing ample climbing structures (Christopher and Barrett 2006,
Morzillo et al. 2003), we attributed differences in rates of parasitism to patterns
of movement and use of habitat space. Bioenergetics studies also confirmed
that P. leucopus exhibits higher metabolism rates, greater foraging behavior,
and greater utilization of the three-dimensional habitat than O. nuttalli (Christopher
and Barrett, in press; Knuth and Barrett 1984; O’Malley et al. 2003).
Botfly eggs are especially abundant at entrances of small mammal burrows
(Catts 1982, Dalmat 1943, Timm and Cook 1979). When a mouse passes by an
egg, its body heat triggers the larva to hatch, attach to the fur, and travel into the
body via a mucosal orifice (Catts 1982). Because parasitism is the result of
passive encounters with botfly eggs, the greater activity of P. leucopus helps to
explain higher rates of parasitism. Catts (1982) suggests that aberrant infections
occur in non-target species by virtue of sharing habitat (egg-infested
territory) with a common host, which explains why both species were parasitized.
Supporting our results are the findings of Dunaway et al. (1967) in which
only three infections out of more than 200 captures of O. nuttalli (< 1.5%) were
noted, whereas 24.7% of P. leucopus were parasitized.
Figure 1 (opposite page). Mean weekly population density per grid (0.21-ha) of
Peromyscus leucopus and Ochrotomys nuttalli during 2001 and 2004 (A), comparison
of proportion parasitized by Cuterebra fontinella between species (B), minimum
weekly temperature (°C) between years (C), and weekly rainfall (cm) during periods
of study (D).
162 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 1
Numerous studies have reported infections of P. leucopus in October
(Dunaway et al. 1967, Hensley 1976, Hirth 1959, Layne 1958, Timm and
Cook 1979, Wecker 1962), but our study represents the first record of high
rates and late-seasonal parasitism of O. nuttalli. In an effort to explain this
occurrence and the differences we found between 2001 and 2004, we investigated
differences in weather—a series of variables that influences the life
history of C. fontinella and that was significantly different between years.
For example, adults will not fly, and therefore not mate or lay eggs, below
temperatures of 20 °C (Hunter and Webster 1973). In addition, egg development
is slowed by low temperatures (less than 15 ºC) and reduced humidity
(Catts 1982). The active hurricane season of 2004 extended warmer, wetter
weather into October and November and appears to have extended the
viability and hatching of botfly eggs later into the year. This combination of
abundant rainfall and warmer temperature allowed botfly activity that could
not have occurred during October 2001. Also, the tropical weather likely
created a greater number of eggs because the warmer conditions would have
extended adult activity as well.
Most studies investigating rates of botfly parasitism have occurred in the
northern ranges of P. leucopus (Barko 2003, Dalmat 1943, Hensley 1976 ,
Miller and Getz 1969, Timm and Cook 1979, Wecker 1962, Wolf and Batzli
2001, Xia and Millar 1990). Our study addresses rates of botfly parasitism
and their temporal variation as found in the southern range. The botfly
season is generally restricted to summer months, when temperatures and
humidity are high. In the northern range, this season generally falls from
July to October. The southern range exhibits a season that is one to three
months longer than the botfly season in the north (Dunaway et al. 1967). Our
investigation corroborates the range and temporal variation findings of other
studies conducted in the southeast. To date, most studies investigating botfly
infestation have focused on the genus Peromyscus, with only limited data
related to small mammals of similar body mass and natural history. We
contribute information about the parasitism of an infrequently studied species,
O. nuttalli, of similar body mass and natural history as P. leucopus
(Christopher and Barrett, in press).
Jaffe et al. (2005) provide an excellent long-term (20-year) overview of
botfly parasitism on Peromyscus maniculatus Wagner, P. leucopus, and
Tamias striatus L. We also stress the need for long-term observations on a
diversity of small mammal species, ecosystem types, and spatial scales.
Such observations are necessary for better understanding the impact of
botfly parasitism on small mammal population dynamics.
Special thanks are extended to T. Barrett, J. Chastant, A. Mahoney, M.
O’Malley, C. Payton, A. Pruitt, and M. Shuman for field assistance during 2001,
and to M. Beres, A. Howington, T. Luhring, K. Meeks, A. Peachy, C. Schmidt, and
S. Shivers for field assistance during 2004. We also thank D. Hall and M. Atkinson
2006 C.A. Jennison, L.R. Rodas, and G.W. Barrett 163
of the Statistical Consulting Center, Department of Statistics, University of Georgia
for their assistance with statistical analysis. We especially thank C. Christopher
for providing unpublished data from 2001. Editorial advice from the Guest Editor
and two anonymous reviewers was invaluable and deeply appreciated.
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