The English proverb ‘As is the king, so are the subjects’ fits very well in the animal world. I was reading about the Pygmy Hog (Porcula salvania) and stumbled upon the Pygmy Hog-Sucking Louse (Haematopinus oliveri). An ectoparasite (a parasite that is externally attached to the host, in this case, to the skin), the louse belongs to the genus Haematopinus and family Haematopinidae. Haematopinidae are also known as ungulate lice (those which survive on ungulates like pigs, antelope, cattle, deer, camels and horses) in the veterinary sciences. While the host-parasite relationship is usually in favour of the latter, when a parasite becomes completely dependent on its host for survival, it also faces the possibility of disappearance when its host becomes endangered. This is what happened to the Pygmy Hog-Sucking Louse. This is certainly not a unique case. One very famous case is that of  Colpocephalum californici, a species of avian chewing louse that was dependent on the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus). While the critically endangered host managed to survive, the parasite was wiped out. One instance where the parasite almost went extinct (in a neat reversal of the previous example), the Passenger Pigeon-Chewing Louse (Columbicola extinctus) was thought to have disappeared along with its only host, the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in the early 1900s. But it was rediscovered, surviving on the Passenger Pigeon’s close relative, the Band-Tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) in 1999.

Image Attribution: The image above from Wikimedia Commons, is taken from an illustration in the booklet ‘Critically Endangered Animal Species of India’ issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India in March, 2011.

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