A really nice example of how to communicate some fascinating evolutionary biology.  Illinois Natural History Survey ornithologist Kevin  Johnson describes his research on the history of feather lice.  Anyone who works with birds knows they are lousy–as in, usually covered in lice.

But how did all those lice evolve? Did they share a common louse ancestor, and then diverge as their bird hosts diverged? Bird winglice  from a parrot look a lot like bird wing lice on a duck–but those are very different and unrelated hosts. What does that tell us about the history of lice?

You can read the paper this work is based on here:

Johnson, K.P., Shreve, S.M. & Smith, V.S. (2012). Repeated adaptive divergence of microhabitat specialization in avian feather lice, BMC Biology, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-10-52

(Looking for a text transcript of the video; you can get most of the content text here)

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. He explained his paper so well, it is really armchair science with confidence, no journalist to confuse the issues.

  2. Pelicans even have lice in their pouches! Not the best photo, but here’s some info on it: http://www.wrcmn.org/pulse/archives/674

  3. He’s a very good communicator with an excellent set of facts to discuss.

  4. Very interesting. I’ve handled a lot of birds (in a rehab setting) and have seen a lot of bird lice. But I didn’t understand these nuances and distinctions. Thanks for the post.

  5. It’s a fascinating and clear video – really fascinating even to someone who knows little about birds and nothing (until now) about bird lice.

  6. […] to Bug Girl’s Blog for tipping me off to this story.  Great for my introductory biology […]

  7. Great find! Thanks for the post. I will use this in an Intro. Biology class I’ll teach this fall and wrote up a short piece on my blog about it. Wish other researchers would do the same with their work.

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