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TDK conference 2018

Molecular analyses of badger ectoparasites from Ireland
Cullen Siobhán Alice - year 5
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department of Parasitology and Zoology
Supervisor: Dr. Sándor Hornok


Ectoparasites are economically important, because they may cause production loss, anaemia and discomfort to their hosts. Apart from this, blood-sucking arthropod ectoparasites can transmit so-called vector-borne pathogens from one host to another.

In this study, Ireland was selected for sampling, taking into account that on islands the genetic background of ectoparasites and the spectrum of pathogens they may harbour are expected to be different from those in mainland Europe. Badgers were chosen as target animals, because they (and thus their ectoparasites) are not regularly transported between Ireland and other parts of Europe.

In 2017 and 2018, the following ectoparasites have been collected from badgers in Ireland: 231 ticks, 73 fleas and 115 lice. Additionally, 131 ticks have been removed from hedgehogs, for comparison with those from badgers. The species of ectoparasites were identified according to standard keys.

Concerning ticks from badgers, two species, i.e. Ixodes canisuga and I. hexagonus have been identified (as contrasted to hedgehogs, infested only by the latter). Fleas and lice of badgers were identified as Paraceras melis and Trichodectes melis, respectively.

DNA was extracted from a representative number of samples (n = 206), followed by PCRs and sequencing for molecular, phylogenetic analyses. Ixodes canisuga from Ireland had 100% identical cytochrome oxidase (cox1) sequences with samples from the UK, and I. hexagonus with samples from Italy. No cox1 difference was found between conspecific badger and hedgehog ticks. Phylogenetic relationships of these ticks, as well as of lice reflected their known taxonomy. However, badger fleas clustered outside their family (Ceratophyllidae).

Seventy-six ticks (only I. canisuga), and three fleas were PCR-positive for piroplasms. The prevalence was significantly higher among female than among nymphal ticks. PCR products from nearly half of the positive samples (n = 35) were sequenced. Thirty-four of these contained the DNA of Babesia sp. badger type-A, which were 100% identical to samples from Hungary and Spain, but only were 99.8% identical to samples from the UK (according to GenBank data). One flea carried the DNA of Babesia sp. badger type-B, showing 100% identity to samples from the UK.

In five fleas the DNA of Wolbachia endosymbionts was detected. All DNA extracts were negative for pathogens in the family Anaplasmataceae, and for rickettsiae, haemoplasmas.

In conclusion, the taxonomy of the badger flea should be revisited in a broader context. This is the first molecular evidence on the occurrence of badger babesiae in Ireland, which appear to be strictly associated with the tick species I. canisuga. The comparative prevalence of babesia genotypes (type-A vs. -B) was shown to differ between Ireland and Scotland. In addition, to the best of our knowledge, this is the second occasion when babesia DNA was detected in fleas of carnivores.

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