Research Article

Ecological studies of larval ticks in South Africa (Acarina: Ixodidae)

J. G. H. Londta1 and G. B. Whiteheada1

a1 Tick Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

The distribution of larval ticks in relation to vegetation cover was studied on two coastal farms in the Port Alfred district of the Cape Province. The following five species were found: Boophilus decoloratus (Koch), Amblyomma hebraeum Koch, Ixodes pilosus Koch, Haemaphysalis silacea Robinson and Rhipicephalus evertsi Neumann. B. decoloratus predominated in short protected vegetation, I. pilosus and H. silacea in short covered vegetation and A. hebraeum in medium-to-tall protected vegetation. R. evertsi was collected in too small numbers to allow any correlation to be established. Both I. pilosus and H. silacea demonstrated activity peaks during the winter months. Microclimatic measurements indicated that larval ticks were not usually collected in microhabitats which experienced midday saturation deficits in excess of approximately 10 mm Hg. Behavioural studies on larval ticks climbing glass rods demonstrated the possible association of larvae with a definite vegetation height. The optimal vegetation heights were correlated with field data. The water balance of some tick species was studied and it was found that at 26 °C a relative humidity of 70% or more (i.e. above 7·53 mm Hg saturation deficit) was required by these larvae. Larvae lost water to the atmosphere at humidities lower than this value and took up water vapour from the atmosphere at values higher than 70% R.H. They were shown to be able to imbibe water through the mouthparts, and this possibly has survival value.

(Received February 24 1972)