Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!
Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.
So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?
The squirrels likely have fleas. And according to this terrific resource, ‘bird parasites include lice, fleas, flies, mites, ticks, leeches, fungi, and bacteria.’ That’s a lot of scratch-my-itch jeopardy!
I’m surprised to learn that most of these parasitic pests survive winter just fine. A squirrel’s den is well insulated, retaining enough of the animals’ body heat to keep a swarm of fleas from freezing. (‘Swarm’ is the term for a group of the little blood suckers, although some sources swear that the collective noun is really ‘a scratch.’)
I suppose the eagle’s generous feathers insulate any mites or lice in need of a toasty bed-and-buffet. Swan feathers may do the same. But the ducks? Goldeneyes and mergansers are diving ducks, so their freeloading lice get dunked hundreds of times a day. I’ve read that duck lice and mites are deterred by the birds’ bathing. Apparently deterred does not mean defeated!
Here are some snippets of my itchy wildlife neighbors. Does watching them makes you think of an old song? I’ll remind you of that song below, after the video.
♪ You’re gonna need an ocean of Calamine lotion… ♪
(Poison Ivy, by the Coasters, 1959)