Independent origins of the feather lice (Insecta: Degeeriella) of raptors

Therese A. Catanach, Kevin P. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although diurnal birds of prey have historically been placed in a single order due to a number of morphological characters, recent molecular phylogenies have suggested that this is a case of convergence rather than homology, with hawks (Accipitridae) and falcons (Falconidae) forming two distantly related groups within birds. The feather lice of birds have often been used as a model for comparing host and parasite phylogenies, and in some cases there is significant congruence between the two. Thus, studying the phylogeny of the lice of diurnal raptors may be of particular interest with respect to the independent evolution of hawks vs. falcons. Using one mitochondrial gene and three nuclear genes, we inferred a phylogeny for the feather louse genus Degeeriella (which are all obligate raptor ectoparasites) and related genera. This phylogeny indicated that Degeeriella is polyphyletic, with lice from falcons vs. hawks forming two distinct clades. Falcon lice were sister to lice from African woodpeckers, whereas Capraiella, a genus of lice from rollers lice, was embedded within Degeeriella from hawks. This phylogeny showed significant geographical structure, with host geography playing a larger role than host taxonomy in explaining louse phylogeny, particularly within clades of closely related lice. However, the louse phylogeny does reflect host phylogeny at a broad scale; for example, lice from the hawk genus Accipiter form a distinct clade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)837-847
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Accipitriformes
  • Birds
  • Diurnal birds of prey
  • Ectoparasites
  • Falconiformes
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Phthiraptera
  • Systematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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