Brown mouse lemurs are tiny and SO, SO, SO cute. They’re also quite hard to study because they are nocturnal and hard to spot. Zohdy et al. (2012) thought of a really creative way to study interactions between these little lemurs. First, they trapped a bunch of lemurs and painted all of the lice on each lemur’s ears with a distinctive color code. Then they released the lemurs and let them go about their business. For the next several weeks, they trapped as many lemurs as they could, and each time they caught one, they looked at the lemur’s lice. If a lemur had lice from another individual, there must have been contact between the two, because the lice in question can only be transmitted via direct contact. Wicked cool idea!
Here are some things that I found interesting:
- Using the lice transmission method helped Zohdy et al. (2012) to have a better picture of lemur social interactions than just using the trapping data.
- Even though they only painted lice on the ears, most of the recovered lice were on the testes of the original host or the new host. Apparently lemur testes are a popular lice hangout location.
- Only male lemurs had lice. That means that the transmission was most likely due to male-male interactions, and not sexual interactions.
- Most of the lice transmission occurred during the mating season. That is probably common in many host-parasite systems – because individuals often interact more during the mating season – but it’s really cool that Zohdy et al. (2012) were able to quantify it.