Menacanthus eurysternus

Geographic Range

This species has been identified on various Piciformes and Passeriformes in nearly all regions, suggesting that Menacanthus eurysternus is distributed almost globally (excluding Antarctica). (Gonzalez-Acuna, et al., 2006; Palma, et al., 1998; Price, 1975)


Menacanthus eurysternus is a free-moving louse that typically spends it's entire life on the feathers or skin of it's avian hosts. Having low host specificity, M. eurysternus have been found on a wide variety of Passeriformes and Piciformes species across a wide geographic range. Studies of captured, infested hosts, find that M. eurysternus infestations are not uniformly spread across a host’s body. This species is rarely found on extremities such as the host’s neck, legs, or tail. Adults and nymphs tend to accumulate around the breast, back, wings, and vent. Eggs, however, are typically laid on regions between the back and the breast, including the wings. ("Chewing and sucking lice as parasites of mammals and birds.", 1997; Agarwal, et al., 1983; Gonzalez-Acuna, et al., 2006; Palma, et al., 1998; Price, 1975)

Physical Description

This species can be distinguished from other Menacanthus species by chaetotaxy of the setae located on the pleurites, sternites, and abdominal tergites. Females and males tend to have relatively shorter setae length at the abdominal tergites among the setae located after the abdominal spiracles. Furthermore, gular coloration, shape of the head, male genitalia, and female subgenital plate can also be used to identify M. eurysternus. Menacanthus eurysternus females have a subgenital plate that can be clearly distinguished from the final, connecting sternal plate because these plates come together in a jagged pattern. The male genital sac has sclerite shaped into a V shape. Gular plates of this species typically lack coloration on the central area of the gular plates and are translucent wherever setae are located.

There is also a considerable amount of sexual dimorphism between males and females. Females tend to be larger than males. The total length of an average female M. eurysternus ranges from 1.50 to 2.09 mm while the average male total length ranges from 1.20 to 1.63 mm. Males and females also have different setae position and length along the abdominal tergites. (Price, 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    1.20 to 2.09 mm
    0.05 to 0.08 in


The development of M. eurysternus begins at a fertilized egg and progresses through three instar nymph stages before becoming an adult. (Agarwal, et al., 1983)


Little information is available on the mating systems of M. eurysternus.

There are several studies which find evidence of seasonal environmental changes affecting the reproductive behavior of M. eurysternus. The lice population increases from February to May and peaks at July. Conversely, populations drop from August to December and are lowest in January. These trends suggest that the lice are affected by the surrounding environmental conditions even though the environmental conditions maintained near the host’s skin and feathers are relatively constant. Other factors that may contribute to the changing lice population may actually be due to the host. Host behavior during warmer weather, such as reproduction and nesting, brooding, preening, and self-grooming behavior, most likely has an impact on louse survival and rate of reproduction. Host behavior such as breeding and nesting creates an ideal opportunity for M. eurysternus to disperse.

There is also evidence of M. eurysternus aligning it's reproductive period with that of its hosts'. The lice’s reproductive periods are synchronized through the host’s hormone levels. It is suggested that by synchronizing reproduction, the lice are able to disperse onto the host’s offspring. (Chandra, et al., 1989)

  • Breeding interval
    Menacanthus eurysternus breeds once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of M. eurysternus typically spans from February to July.

There is little available information on the parental investment of M. eurysternus. Most species of louse do not exhibit parental behaviors after the females oviposit, and it is likely that M. eurysternus does the same.


Specific information on the lifespan of M. eurysternus is unavailable. However, in closely related species, lice are typically not able to survive over 24 hours away from a host. ("Chewing and sucking lice as parasites of mammals and birds.", 1997)


Generally, M. eurysternus is a parasite of a wide range of avian species. There is little available information on the particular behaviors of M. eurysternus.

Home Range

Exact home range size for Menacanthus eurysternus is unknown. (Palma, et al., 1998; Price, 1975)

Communication and Perception

There is little information available on communication and perception capabilities of M. eurysternus.

Food Habits

This species has strong and sharp mandibles used for piercing the host's pin feathers and breaking the host's epidermis, causing the host’s blood to pool. The muscles within the esophagus and pharynx have been modified to suck up the pooling blood. There is no difference between the feeding behavior of male and female M. eurysternus. The feeding behavior differs among different developmental stages, with feeding occurring most often in adults and first instar nymph stages. There are also differences in food intake between lice that live on a sparsely parasitized host and lice that live on a heavily parasitized host. Lice from heavily parasitized host are more likely to ingest feather parts along with a blood meal. Whereas when a louse occupies a less infected host, it is more likely to ingest a full blood meal without any feather fragments. Moreover, unlike many other Mallophaga, M. eurysternus does not participate in cannibalism of its eggs, egg cases (after the egg hatches), or other Mallophaga. (Agarwal, et al., 1983)

  • Animal Foods
  • blood


There is little information available on the predation of M. eurysternus.

Ecosystem Roles

M. eurysternus has low host specificity and can be found on a broad range of avian species. Within the Passeriformes, M. eurysternus has been found on at least 118 different species. Future studies are likely to document more hosts in which this species infects. Although M. eurysternus utilizes many avian hosts, but several studies have looked at the affect of this species on common myna. Menacanthus eurysternus reduces productivity and vitality of its hosts, which likely allows other species of parasites or bacterium to infect the infested birds. This species is also a vector for disease, which can significantly decrease the lifespan of its hosts. (Palma, et al., 1998; Price, 1975)

Species Used as Host

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Menacanthus eurysternus on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The more common relative of M. eurysternus is Menacanthus stramineus. Both species are capable of infesting poultry, a common food source with huge economic importance for humans. Although M. eurysternus is not as important economically and is not as prevalent as M. stramineus, M. eurysternus can still negatively impact the poultry industry. It was estimated in 1981 that the United States poultry industry lost approximately $378 million dollars annually due to M. eurysternus, M. stramineus, and other poultry lice that caused reduced egg and meat production in poultry. ("Chewing and sucking lice as parasites of mammals and birds.", 1997)

Conservation Status

Currently there are no conservation efforts in place for M. eurysternus. These lice have a wide range of available hosts, distributed across nearly every continent in the world and thus are not at risk of endangerment. ("Chewing and sucking lice as parasites of mammals and birds.", 1997)

Other Comments

Because of the wide geographic range and low host specificity of M. eurysternus, this species has been recognized under many different scientific names. However, there are recent articles that have compiled past data and documented these numerous synonymies as M. eurysternus. Over 20 alternative names have now been confirmed and identified as M. eurysternus. The compiled list of these synonymies can be found in Price's book, "The Chewing Lice: World Checklist and Biological Overview" and in an article by Palma, et al. ("The chewing lice: world checklist and biological overview.", 2003; Palma, et al., 1998)


Sherry Ngo (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Heidi Liere (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Marino (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Barry OConnor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death


an animal that mainly eats blood

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


1997. Chewing and sucking lice as parasites of mammals and birds.. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

2003. The chewing lice: world checklist and biological overview.. Illinois: Illinois Natural History Survey.

Agarwal, G., A. Saxena, S. Chandra. 1983. Haematophagous behaviour of Menacanthus eurysternus (Mallophaga, Amblycera).. Angewandte Parasitologie, 24: 55-59.

Chandra, S., G. Agarwal, A. Saxena. 1989. Distribution of Mallophaga on the body of Acridotheres tristis (Aves). Angewandte Parasitologie, 30: 39-42.

Gonzalez-Acuna, D., F. Vergara, L. Moreno, C. Barrientos, K. Ardiles, A. Cicchino. 2006. Lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) from Species of the Families Furnariidae, Tyrannidae, Turdidae and Icteridae (Aves: Passeriformes) from Chile. Gayana, 70: 210-219.

Palma, R., R. Price, R. Hellenthal. 1998. New Synonymies and Host Records for Lice of the Genus Menacanthus (Phthiraptera: Menoponidae) from the Passeriformes (Aves). Journal of The Royal Society of New Zealand, 28: 309-320.

Price, R. 1975. The Menacanthus eurysternus Complex (Mallophaga: Menoponidae) of the Passeriformes and Piciformes (Aves). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 68: 617-622.

Singh, S. 1990. Seasonal changes in a population of Menacanthus eurysternus (Mallophaga, Amblycera) on the common myna Acridotheres tristis.. International Journal for Parasitology, 20: 1063-1065.