Grooming in impala: Role of oral grooming in removal of ticks and effects of ticks in increasing grooming rate

Michael S. Mooring, Andrew A. Mckenzie, Benjamin Hart

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77 Scopus citations


In Experiment 1, five adult female impala were fitted with harnesses that restrained oral self-grooming of the anterior part of the body. At the same time, six cohoused female impala were fitted with control harnesses that allowed normal oral grooming. The impala were allowed to habituate to the harnesses for 10 days, and both groups were then exposed to larval ticks (Boophilus decoloratus) by herding them into a tick-seeding corral. During the third week following tick seeding, when female ticks were estimated to have developed into engorging adults, the impala were immobilized, tick numbers on the animals sampled by patch sampling, and the harnesses removed. Observations continued for 5 days following removal of the harnesses. Twenty-minute focal observations were conducted daily on each impala during the habituation, tick-seeded, and postharness phases. Restrained impala had a median of 20 times more adult female ticks (both engorged and unengorged) than control impala. Oral grooming, which had been suppressed in the restrained impala during habituation and tick-seeded phases, increased 10-fold once the harnesses were removed and occurred 2.5 times more frequently than in control impala during the postharness phase. In Experiment 2, 15 adult female impala were seeded with larval ticks as in Experiment 1; in week 3 after tick seeding all ticks were removed from animals by application of an acaricide. Grooming was recorded during 3 weeks of baseline observations prior to tick seeding, 3 weeks after tick seeding, and then for 3 weeks beginning 1 week after acaricide treatment. Oral grooming and scratch grooming significantly increased from baseline during tick seeding and significantly declined following removal of the ticks with acaracide. Taken together, the two experiments demonstrate that oral grooming is very effective and important in removing fitness-compromising ticks in free-ranging impala. Correspondingly, exposure to, and subsequent infestation by, ticks increases the rate of grooming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-971
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Grooming
  • Impala
  • Ixodid ticks
  • Parasite defense
  • Programmed grooming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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