Scientists have identified Siberian mites in African bats
16.03.2020

A Russian-American group of researchers, including Maria Orlova, a biotechnology researcher at Tomsk State University, has shown spinturnicidae mites in African bats, which are widespread in Eurasia, including Siberia. It is these ectoparasites that can act as carriers of certain diseases. This species was first discovered on the African continent. The research results are published in the latest issue of the international highly ranked journal International Journal of Acarology.

Because of the coronavirus epidemic, studies of the ecology of bats are becoming increasingly relevant, including the study of their ectoparasites (organisms that parasitize on the surface of the body) - they are capable of acting as carriers of many dangerous diseases. But before identifying infections, scientists need to figure out what types of parasites live on bats. This is precisely what the Russian-American group of researchers, which includes Maria Orlova, a senior researcher at the TSU Laboratory of Biodiversity Monitoring of the Biological Institute, is doing.

- Some areas, including many regions of Africa, Asia, and South America, have not yet been studied, or have not been studied enough, even regarding the diversity of fauna,- says Maria Orlova. - For this reason, we do not have a complete idea of what species of bats live there and what parasites they are infected with. The samplings of parasites from bats in Central and South Africa were carried out only in some areas and a long time ago (40-50 years). Therefore, the expedition to Africa by my colleagues from the University of Colorado (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA) was of great theoretical and practical importance.

Among the samples collected in the north of Namibia, researchers found gamasid mites, often found in Eurasia but previously unknown in Africa. Scientists added a whole continent to the range of the famous and well-studied species. Biologists suggest that a dangerous parasite entered through the Strait of Gibraltar and Sinai from Africa to Eurasia, along with their hosts, when they settled in the Old World.

Spinturnicidae mites are very widespread throughout the world,- explains Maria Orlova. - They are carriers of pathogens such as Bartonella, Rickettsia and Anaplasma. While there is no evidence of Spinturnicidae attacks on humans, they are a factor supporting the infection in the bat colonies. The mite species that we found in Namibia is often found in Siberia as well, because its main hosts are the bats of the genus Eptesicus (leather), which come from Africa. Having moved to Eurasia, leathers brought with them a specific parasite. For example, the northern leather jacket - our typical Russian boreal species - is caught in the north almost to the tundra, and this very tick Spinturnix kolenatii is often found on it.

According to the TSU biologist, accurate knowledge of the parasite’s habitat makes it possible to predict its role as a carrier of diseases and greatly facilitates the study of bat infections. Two more species of gamasid mites in the collections are African but first discovered in Namibia, and articles about them are ready for publication.

The next step in studies of African spinturnicidae may be the study of infections associated with this type of tick and their microorganisms in general. According to Maria Orlova, the origin of this ectoparasite in Africa makes it especially interesting, including its symbionts, among which some pathogenic bacteria/viruses and microorganisms are completely harmless to humans.