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Oops. New feathers turn out lousy

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10:01am, August 28, 2001

Going to the trouble of molting doesn't really get rid of a bird's lice after all. Furthermore, flying doesn't blow off tough lice–unless a bird wears nail polish. Thus go the latest bulletins from the dramatic war between bird and louse.

Brett Moyer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and his colleagues are upsetting the conventional wisdom about molting. When a bird sheds feathers and grows new ones, part of the reward comes from ditching parasites, researchers have assumed.

At first, the assumption seemed to hold up in Moyer's inspections. He and his colleagues saw significantly fewer lice on pigeons after a molt than before.

When the researchers counted lice by washing them off the pigeons, however, the difference in lousiness disappeared.

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