a1 Department of Environmental Sciences, Section of Conservation Biology, University of Basel, St Johanns-Vorstadt 10, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland
The route of transmission and host finding behaviour are fundamental components of a parasite's fitness. Riccardoella limacum, a haematophagous mite, lives in the mantle cavity of helicid land snails. To date it has been assumed that this parasitic mite is transmitted during courtship and mating of the host. Here we present experimental evidence for a new transmission route in the host snail Arianta arbustorum. Parasite-free snails were kept on soil on which previously infected host snails had been maintained for 6 weeks. R. limacum was successfully transmitted via soil without physical contact among hosts in 10 out of 22 (45·5%) cases. In a series of experiments we also examined the off-host locomotion of R. limacum on snail mucus and control substrates using an automated camera system. Parasitic mites showed a preference to move on fresh mucus. Our results support the hypothesis that R. limacum uses mucus trails to locate new hosts. These findings should be considered in commercial snail farming and when examining the epidemiology of wild populations.
(Received June 26 2008)
(Revised August 05 2008)
(Accepted August 25 2008)