Little is known about whether chewing lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) suppress or activate immunity in birds. Here, relationships between lice (Quadraceps punctatus, Saemundsonnia lari and Austromenopon transversum) and immune parameters were evaluated in Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) chicks. Eosinophils made up greater proportions of leukocytes in chicks with more lice (partial r = 0.64, P < 0.001), suggesting louse-induced immunoactivation via either eosinophil production or redistribution to peripheral blood. However, there were no significant relationships between lice and other immune parameters (proportion heterophils, proportion lymphocytes, heterophil:lymphocyte ratio, response to injection with phytohaemagglutinin). Collectively, results suggest only minor immune responses to lice, but experimental manipulations of louse infestations are needed to better quantify these responses and evaluate their potential consequences for fitness.
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Vol. 35 • No. 1