Another Endangered Species Due to Habitat Loss: Crab Lice

I’m a birder and have seen the populations of many species I’ve watched over the last 30+ years decline.  Many of these declines are felt to be due to the loss of breeding, wintering or migration stop-over habitats required by these species.  In the late 1980’s a trip to Grays Harbor, WA at the time of peak migration might reveal up to a half million shorebirds crowded into the remaining mud flats at high tide. Now to see a few thousand shorebirds in this location is a good day.  Loss of habitat is felt to be the major factor in this drop in numbers of Western sandpipers and Short-billed dowichers, the predominant species using this location as a migration stopover site.  Conversely some other species like the introduced European House Sparrow have taken advantage of human created habitat opportunities.

A species I used to see occasionally in the office, Pthirus pubis, the human crab louse has also suffered severe habitat deprivation in recent years.  The preferred habitat of this organism is the hairy groin region of both men and women.  In the last 20+ years much of this habitat has been altered due to a change in pubic hair grooming practices. The exact incidence of this sexually transmitted parasite is poorly understood due to not being reportable.  Crab lice do not transmit any other disease so is not followed by the WHO or CDC. Still as early as a 2009 study  reported by NIH showed self-reported crab lice infection in

Bikini Wax Menu Options
Bikini Wax Menu Options

college students to be much lower than prior incidence estimates.  The widely accepted explanation for this environmental disaster for this species (tongue firmly in cheek here) is the relatively new grooming habits of youth in western countries. It is estimated that 80% of US college students trim or shave their pubic hair.  This is certainly consistent with my observations in the office.

Relatively famous boutiques such as the J. Sisters salon in New York City specialize in Brazilian waxing, a practice popular for decades in places like Rio de Janero where tiny bikinis are the usual beach attire.  Shows like Sex in the City openly discussed waxing, and may have contributed to the trend.  At any rate this is one endangered species that engenders little sympathy or movement to restore or protect habitat.

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