The energetic grooming costs imposed by a parasitic mite (Spinturnix myoti) upon its bat host (Myotis myotis)

Maud S. Giorgi, Raphaë Arlettaz, Philippe Christe, Peter Vogel

Abstract

Parasites often exert severe negative effects upon their host's fitness. Natural selection has therefore prompted the evolution of anti–parasite mechanisms such as grooming. Grooming is efficient at reducing parasitic loads in both birds and mammals, but the energetic costs it entails have not been properly quantified. We measured both the energetic metabolism and behaviour of greater mouse–eared bats submitted to three different parasite loads (no, 20 and 40 mites) during whole daily cycles. Mites greatly affected their time and energy budgets. They caused increased grooming activity, reduced the overall time devoted to resting and provoked a dramatic shortening of resting bout duration. Correspondingly, the bats' overall metabolism (oxygen consumption) increased drastically with parasite intensity and, during the course of experiments, the bats lost more weight when infested with 40 rather than 20 or no parasites. The short–term energetic constraints induced by anti–parasite grooming are probably associated with long-term detrimental effects such as a decrease in survival and overall reproductive value.

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