Demodectic mites have been described in terrestrial mammals throughout the
world including koala1, panda5, cheetah6, black bear, bison,
water shrew, raccoon, ferret, hamster, wild and domestic canines and felines7,
tamarin and man4. The parasite lives in hair follicles and sebaceous glands
completing a life cycle that includes, egg, larva, protonymph, nymph and adult stages. Each
species appears to be uniquely adapted to its' specific host and is transmitted vertically from
the host female to her offspring. Most infestations are clinically inapparent but young or
stressed (immunologically compromised) animals may develop significant folliculitis and
secondary bacterial infection.
A unique marine mammal species (D. zalophi) was documented in
California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) in 19793. Clinically significant
dermatitis including hyperkeratosis, alopecia and puritis has been associated with demodex mites
in northern fur seals 2 and in other unidentified captive pinnipeds (Dunn, pers.
com). Treatment with topical amitraz has appeared to be successful in these cases.
A 26 year old intact female Atlantic harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)
housed since 1998 at the Alaska SeaLife Center was noted to have several small (3-4 mm diameter)
foci of persistent hyperkeratosis and hyperpigmentation on the dorsal thorax and lumbar skin.
These sites would occasionally become crusted with dead skin and bleed slightly when abraded but
were otherwise static and seemed to cause no discomfort. A skin biopsy was performed at the
largest site in March 2001 and revealed chronic, ulcerative and hyperplastic dermatitis with
follicular acariasis and bacterial folliculitis.
Seven other subadult to adult harbor seals (mixed Atlantic and Pacific
stock) and three juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) have been housed with
this female over the past 4 years but no other animal has shown clinically detectable lesions.
Occasional skin biopsies collected from these animals for other reasons have not contained any
mites. All of these animals are part of an ongoing study of nutritional physiology and health at
ASLC. The affected female has bilateral luxated cataracts and occasional mild uveitis but has
shown no other health problems. The sites of infestation have remained small and have not
appeared to spread or cause any debility. Additional follow up biopsies and skin scrapings over
the past 12 months have consistently demonstrated presence of demodectic mites which appear to
be a unique new species.
The authors wish to thank Michael Garner, D.V.M., Dipl. A.C.V.P., for the
initial histopathology on this case and Dr. Cliff Desch, for assistance in classification of
1. Booth RJ, WH Blanshard. 1999. Monotremes and marsupials,
In: M.E. Fowler, (ed.). Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current Therapy. W.B.
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2. Dailey MD. 2001, "Parasitic Diseases" In: Dierauf, L.A.,
and F.M.D. Gulland, (eds.). Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine. CRC Press, Boca Raton,
FL, Pp. 357-379
3. Dailey MD, WB Nutting. 1979. Demodex zalophi sp Nov.
(Acari: Demodicidae) from Zalophus californianus, the California Sea Lion.
Acarologia, t. XXI, Pp. 3-4.
4. James SB, BL Raphael. 2000. Demodecosis in Red Handed Tamarins
(Saguinus midas). J. Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 31:2. Pp. 251-254
5. Mainka SA. 1999. Giant panda management and medicine in China,
In: M.E. Fowler (ed.) Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current Therapy, W.B.
Saunders, Co. Philadelphia, PA, Pp. 411-414.
6. Meltzer DGA. 1999. Medical Management of a cheetah breeding
facility in South Africa, In: M.E. Fowler (ed.). Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current
Therapy. W.B. Saunders, Co. Philadelphia, PA., Pp. 415-422.
7. Scott DW, WH Miller, CE Griffin. 1995. Parasitic skin disease.
In: Muller & Kirk's Small Animal Dermatology, 5th Edition. W.B. Saunders Co.,
Philadelphia, PA., Pp. 417-434.