Fleas (Siphonaptera) of the Allegheny Woodrat (Neotoma Magister) in West Virginia with Comments on Host Specificity

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ABSTRACT--Previous research has indicated fewer host-specific ectoparasites on woodrats of the eastern United States as compared to western woodrat species. The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) is a species of conservation concern that is associated with rocky habitats in the Appalachian and Interior Highland regions in the eastern United States. We examined Allegheny woodrat flea parasites in the core of the distribution to further elucidate patterns of ectoparasite host specificity in woodrats of the eastern United States. Of 346 fleas collected from 62 Allegheny woodrats, all but I were identified as Orchopeas pennsylvanicus. The single exception was a male Epitedia cavernicola, which represents only the second collection of this species from West Virginia. Unlike the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana), which hosts a variety of generalist flea parasites, Allegheny woodrats in our study were host to only 2 flea species, both of which are host specific to woodrats. We suggest that flea host specificity may be related to the specific habitat requirements of this species.

INTRODUCTION

The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) is associated with rock outcrops, cliffs and caves throughout much of the central and southern Appalachians and in adjacent portions of the Interior Highlands of the eastern United States (Poole, 1940). Formerly considered a subspecies of the eastern woodrat (N. floridana), the Allegheny woodrat is now considered a distinct species based on recent genetic, karyotypic and morphometric analyses (Hayes and Harrison, 1992; Hayes and Richmond, 1993; Planz et. al., 1996; Ray, 2000; Edwards et al., 2001). This species currently is considered endangered, threatened or a species of conservation concern in every state in which it occurs due to population declines on the northern and western peripheries of the distribution (Castleberry et al., 2001).

Although ectoparasites of woodrats in the western United States are well documented (Walters and Roth, 1950; Lang, 1996), few studies have examined ectoparasites of woodrat species in the east. burden et al. (1997) described the ectoparasite fauna of eastern woodrats in Georgia and South Carolina and noted low host specificity as compared to western woodrat species. Of 5 flea species they documented, only 1 is host-specific to woodrats. In a study of Allegheny woodrat (reported as Neotoma floridana) ectoparasites in Indiana, Cudmore (1986) documented 4 flea species of which 2 are known as woodrat-specific parasites. Other available data are based on anecdotal accounts (Poole, 1940) or limited collections (Jordan, 1928). We examined the flea parasites of Allegheny woodrats in the core of their distribution, the Appalachian highlands, to further elucidate the patterns of ectoparasite host specificity in woodrats of the eastern United States.

STUDY AREA AND METHODS

Woodrat sampling was conducted at the MeadWestvaco Corporation's Wildlife and Ecosystem Research Forest (MERE) in Randolph County, West Virginia (38 deg 42'N, 80 deg 3'W), from December 1997 to August 1999 and at Cooper's Rock State Forest (CRSF) in Monongalia and Preston counties (39 deg 39'N, 79 deg 47'W) during May and June 2000. Both study areas are located in the Allegheny Mountains section of the Unglaciated Allegheny Mountains and Plateau physiographic province (Fenneman, 1938; Duncan, 1975). Trapping locations at the MERE ranged in elevation from ca. 900 to 1200 m, whereas elevations of trapping locations at CRSF ranged from ca. 500 to 650 m.

All woodrats were live captured using 12.7 X 12.7 X 40.6 cm Tomahawk traps (Tomahawk Live Trap Co., Tomahawk, Wisconsin1) baited with sliced apples and set near rock outcrops. Animals were manually restrained and examined for fleas by combing back the fur. All visible fleas were collected with forceps and stored in 70% ethanol. Ticks that were obvious in a cursory examination (e.g., on the ears or engorged) also were collected and stored in 70% ethanol. …