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Macroparasites are commonly aggregated on a small subset of a host population. Previous explanations for this aggregation relate to differences in immunocompetence or the degree to which hosts encounter parasites. We propose active tick host choice through chemical attraction as a potential mechanism leading to aggregated tick burdens. We test this hypothesis using a Y-maze olfactometer, comparing chemical attraction responses of larval and nymphal Dermacentor variabilis ticks parasitic to the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus, as a function of host sex and host body mass. We hypothesized that larger hosts and male hosts would be most attractive to searching ticks, as these hosts commonly have higher tick burdens in the field. Chemical attraction trials were run in the presence and absence of a known tick attractant, host-produced carbon dioxide (CO2). Male hosts and larger hosts were preferred by nymphal D. variabilis in the presence and absence of CO2, whereas larvae had no detectable host preference. The current study suggests that host-produced chemical cues may promote aggregated tick burdens among hosts of a single species based on host body mass and sex. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

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Experimental and Applied Acarology

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