Rhinonyssids are obligate haematophagous mites that parasitize the nasal cavity of vertebrates, and occur in a wide range of birds worldwide. Two species of nasal mites are known to occur in penguins: Rhinonyssus sphenisci, which has been recorded from Humboldt and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus humboldti and S. magellanicus, respectively), and Rhinonyssus schelli, which has been recorded in Adélie and Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae and P. papua, respectively). We examined the nasal cavity of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) that died while under care at a rehabilitation centre (N = 40) or that were found dead at breeding colonies (N = 67). Nasal mites were found in the nasal cavity and/or paranasal of sinuses of 21 penguins, some of which had signs of mild-to-moderate sinusitis. Prevalence was higher in juveniles (29%) and adults (27%) than in chicks (10%). Mean intensity was 5.9 ± 12.9 mites per infected host (range 1-60). The mites presented morphological characteristics that were at times consistent with either R. sphenisci or R. schelli, and therefore we conservatively classified them as 'R. sphenisci sensu lato'. Our morphometric results raise the question of whether the specific status of R. schelli is justified.
Keywords: Arthropod; Mesostigmata; Rhinonyssidae; South Africa; Spheniscidae; respiratory disease; seabird.