Nasopulmonary mites (Halarachnidae) of coastal Californian pinnipeds: Identity, prevalence, and molecular characterization

Risa Pesapane, Wiley Archibald, Tenaya Norris, Christine Fontaine, Barbie Halaska, Pádraig Duignan, Nadia Javeed, Melissa Miller, Janet Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mites from the family Halarachnidae Oudemans 1906 are obligate endoparasites that colonize the respiratory tracts of free-living and captive marine mammals. Infestations can range from mild to severe and result in respiratory tract irritation or impairment. Nasopulmonary acariasis was determined to be a contributing cause of death among several southern sea otters Enhydra lutris nereis Merriam 1904 in a longitudinal study of otter mortality, and proximity to Pacific harbor seals Phoca vitulina richardii Gray 1864 was a significant risk factor for sea otter infestation. Beyond scattered opportunistic reports, each halarachnid mite species' affinity for particular hosts and the extent of mite transmission between host species is poorly understood. We investigated the identity and prevalence of nasopulmonary mites from Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions Zalophus californianus Lesson 1828, northern elephant seals Mirounga angustirostris Gill 1866, northern fur seals Callorhinus ursinus Linnaeus 1758, and Guadalupe fur seals Arctocephalus philippii townsendi Merriam 1897 to complement published nasopulmonary mite findings from sympatric southern sea otters during a comparable timeframe. Halarachnid mite infestation was common among California sea lions (74.1%), northern fur seals (73.3%), and northern elephant seals (46.6%), but was less common among harbor seals (18.7%) and Guadalupe fur seals (8.8%). Observed host-mite relationships suggest a distinct host specificity, with genus Orthohalarachne infesting otariids, and genus Halarachne infesting phocids and lutrinids along the California coast. Harbor seals and southern sea otters were the primary hosts of H. halichoeri, but one nothern elephant seal was infested with both H. miroungae and a single H. halichoeri. We also present the first high-resolution SEM images for H. miroungae and O. attenuata and possible evidence for a new host record for H. halichoeri.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-119
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Acari
  • Halarachne halichoeri
  • Halarachne miroungae
  • Orthohalarachne attenuata
  • Pinnipedia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Infectious Diseases


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