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ScienceShot: Lice Reveal Clandestine Lemur Get-Togethers

6 January 2012 1:52 pm
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Sarah Zohdy

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Figuring out how brown mouse lemurs spend their time has almost been impossible, even with weekly trapping and releasing of more than 300 animals carrying an identifying microchip. Enter lice. Graduate student Sarah Zohdy of the University of Helsinki marked lice living on lemurs with dots of different colored nail polish and then recorded when and where the insects turned up on other individuals. She was surprised to learn that the supposedly solitary lemurs often stray from their home tree, interacting quite a bit with distant neighbors, particularly during the breeding season. The lice spread only with contact between lemurs and in this study were transmitted only among males, Zohdy reported here yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. The downside? The distribution of the insects over time, she said, indicates that "just a few lemurs could be responsible for a population-wide louse-borne epidemic."

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