Hosts, seasonal occurrence and life cycle of Rhipicentor nuttalli (Acari: Ixodidae)

28 Feb 2012

There are only two species worldwide within the genus Rhipicentor, namely Rhipicentor bicornis and Rhipicentor nuttalli, and both occur only in Africa. Rhipicentor nuttalli has a widespread distribution in South Africa and the present investigation was initiated to elucidate its host preference, seasonality and life cycle. Rock elephant shrews, Elephantulus myurus, were examined for ticks at four localities in the Free State Province, one in Gauteng Province and two in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Cape elephant shrews, Elephantulus edwardii, were examined at two places in the Western Cape Province, and a single specimen of the bushveld elephant shrew, Elephantulus intufi, was examined in central Namibia. Small mammals of other species were also examined at two of these localities. The majority of E. myurus at two sites in the Free State, at the locality in Gauteng and both sites in Limpopo Province were infested with larvae and/or nymphs of R. nuttalli, while the single E. edwardii examined at one site in the Western Cape Province and the single E. intufi examined in Namibia were infested with nymphs of this tick. Not one of the other small animals was infested. Although larvae and nymphs of R. nuttalli were present on E. myurus throughout the year, the former were generally most numerous during the period March to September, and the latter during May to October. The preferred hosts of the adults are domestic dogs, leopards, Panthera pardus and South African hedgehogs, Atelerix frontalis. Adult females engorged on Atelerix frontalis in 16-32 days and, after a preoviposition period of 2-4 days, produced approximately 17 000 eggs during the following 60-70 days. The average incubation period of the eggs was 59 days. Larvae engorged on E. myurus in 4-10 days and moulted to nymphs 12-20 days later. Nymphs required 11-15 days to engorge on E. myurus and moulted to adults 32-47 days later. Allowing 14 days for the exoskeletons and mouthparts of each of the three parasitic stages to harden before they can attach to a host, the life cycle took approximately 214 days to complete in the laboratory. The length of this period, considered in conjunction with the times of maximum seasonal occurrence of the immature stages, indicates that the life cycle probably takes a year to complete in the field.