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Feather mites help to remove bacteria and fungi from the feathers of birds, according to a new study by University of Alberta biologists. In fact, the relationship between these mites and their hosts could be considered mutualism, with bird feathers collecting food for mites to eat and mites providing the birds with healthier plumage.
"Until we published this paper, our understanding of feather mites' diet was limited to scattered observations that their guts often contained fungal spores," said Heather Proctor, co-author and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. "We concluded that vane-dwelling feather mites do not eat feathers. Rather, they feed mainly on fungi and bacteria that get caught in or grow on the feathers."
Species - Feather - Mites - Quills - Feathers
There are more than 2,500 species of feather mites that live inside the hollow quills of feathers, in the fluffy down, and on the vanes of wing and tail feathers. Until this study, vane-dwelling mites have often been assumed to be parasitic, like feather lice, which are harmful to birds.
Alongside undergraduate student Arnika Oddy-van Oploo, Proctor conducted a rigorous investigation of what vane-dwelling feather mites eat. The pair examined the gut contents of 1,300 individual mites representing 100 different...
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