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Title: Haemoproteus  
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Haemoproteus syrnii
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Chromalveolata
Superphylum: Alveolata
Phylum: Apicomplexa
Class: Aconoidasida
Order: Haemospororida
Family: Haemoproteidae
Genus: Haemoproteus

Haemoproteus aegnithidae
Haemoproteus aegyptius
Haemoproteus africanus
Haemoproteus alaudae
Haemoproteus anthi
Haemoproteus antigonis
Haemoproteus asturisdussumieri
Haemoproteus attenatus
Haemoproteus balearicae
Haemoproteus balli
Haemoproteus balmorali
Haemoproteus bambusicolae
Haemoproteus bennetti
Haemoproteus brachiatus
Haemoproteus beckeri
Haemoproteus belopolskyi
Haemoproteus bennetti
Haemoproteus borgesi
Haemoproteus brodkorbi
Haemoproteus bubalornis
Haemoproteus bucerotis
Haemoproteus canachites
Haemoproteus caprimulgi
Haemoproteus catharti
Haemoproteus catenatus
Haemoproteus cellii
Haemoproteus centropi
Haemoproteus chelodina
Haemoproteus coatneyi
Haemoproteus columbae
Haemoproteus cornuata
Haemoproteus crumenius
Haemoproteus cyanomitrae
Haemoproteus danilewskyi
Haemoproteus desseri
Haemoproteus dicaeus
Haemoproteus dicruri
Haemoproteus edomensis
Haemoproteus elani
Haemoproteus enucleator
Haemoproteus dolniki
Haemoproteus forresteri
Haemoproteus fringillae
Haemoproteus fusca
Haemoproteus gabaldoni
Haemoproteus garnhami
Haemoproteus geochelonis
Haemoproteus greineri
Haemoproteus goodmani
Haemoproteus halcyonis
Haemoproteus handai
Haemoproteus hirundinis
Haemoproteus himalayanus
Haemoproteus homobelopolskyi
Haemoproteus iwa
Haemoproteus janovyi
Haemoproteus khani
Haemoproteus kopki
Haemoproteus krylovi
Haemoproteus lanii
Haemoproteus lari
Haemoproteus lophortyx
Haemoproteus kopki
Haemoproteus maccallumi
Haemoproteus mackerrasi
Haemoproteus madagascariensis
Haemoproteus majoris
Haemoproteus mansoni
Haemoproteus mathislegeri
Haemoproteus melopeliae
Haemoproteus meleagridis
Haemoproteus mesnili
Haemoproteus metchnikovi
Haemoproteus micronuclearis
Haemoproteus minutus
Haemoproteus motacillae
Haemoproteus multipigmentatus
Haemoproteus nebraskensis
Haemoproteus nettionis
Haemoproteus nisi
Haemoproteus noctuae
Haemoproteus nucleofascialis
Haemoproteus nucleophilus
Haemoproteus oedurae
Haemoproteus orioli
Haemoproteus oryzivora
Haemoproteus ovalis
Haemoproteus pallidus
Haemoproteus pallidulus
Haemoproteus palumbis
Haemoproteus pasteris
Haemoproteus pastoris
Haemoproteus parabelopolskyi
Haemoproteus paranucleophilus
Haemoproteus paruli
Haemoproteus passeris
Haemoproteus payevskyi
Haemoproteus peltocephali
Haemoproteus peircei
Haemoproteus pelouri
Haemoproteus phyllodactyli
Haemoproteus piresi
Haemoproteus plataleae
Haemoproteus pratosi
Haemoproteus prognei
Haemoproteus psittaci
Haemoproteus pteroclis
Haemoproteus ptyodactyli
Haemoproteus quelea
Haemoproteus raymundi
Haemoproteus rileyi
Haemoproteus rupicola
Haemoproteus sacharovi
Haemoproteus sanguinus
Haemoproteus sanîosdiasï
Haemoproteus sauianae
Haemoproteus sequeirae
Haemoproteus serini
Haemoproteus silvaï
Haemoproteus sturni
Haemoproteus sylvae
Haemoproteus syrnii
Haemoproteus tarentolae
Haemoproteus tartakovskyi
Haemoproteus telfordi
Haemoproteus tendeiroi
Haemoproteus tinnunculi
Haemoproteus thraupi
Haemoproteus trionyxi
Haemoproteus turtur
Haemoproteus uraeginthus
Haemoproteus vacuolatus
Haemoproteus vangii
Haemoproteus velans
Haemoproteus vireonis
Haemoproteus wenyoni
Haemoproteus witti
Haemoproteus xantholemae
Haemoproteus zosteropsis

Haemoproteus is a genus of protozoa that are parasitic in birds, reptiles and amphibians. Its name is derived from Greek: Haima - blood and Proteus - a sea god who had the power of assuming different shapes. The name Haemoproteus was first used in the description of Haemoproteus columbae in the blood of the pigeon Columba livia by Kruse in 1890. This was also the first description of this genus. Two other genera - Halteridium and Simondia - are now considered to be synonyms of Haemoproteus.

The protozoa are intracellular parasites that infect the erythrocytes. They are transmitted by blood sucking insects including mosquitoes, biting midges (Culicoides), louse flies (Hippoboscidae) and tabanid flies (Tabanidae). Infection with this genus is sometimes known as pseudomalaria because of the parasites' similarities with Plasmodium species.

Within the genus there are at least 173 species, 5 varieties and 1 subspecies. Of these over 140 occur in birds, 16 in reptiles and 3 in amphibia: 14 orders and 50 families of birds are represented. These include gamebirds (Galliformes), waterfowl (Anseriformes), raptors (Accipitriformes, Falconiformes, Strigiformes), pigeons and doves (Columbiformes), and perching birds or songbirds (Passeriformes).


The first description of this genus was in 1890 by Kruse who described Haemoproteus columbae in the blood of the pigeon Columba livia. McCallum in 1897 showed that the process of exflagellation was part of sexual reproduction in these parasites and thought it probable that the same process occurred in Plasmodium. The first record of a haemoproteid parasite in a reptile was by Simond in 1901 who gave it the name Haemamoeba metchnikovi. The Sergent brothers in 1906 showed that the ectoparasitic fly Pseudolynchia canariensis was the vector of Haemoproteus columbae. Aragao in 1908 demonstrated the schizogonic stages of Haemoproteus columbae in the endothelial cells of the lungs of nestling pigeons infected by the bite of infected Pseudolynchia. It was generally believed that transmission of the parasites was by regurgitation during a blood meal until Adie showed that the parasites develop in the salivary glands in a fashion analogous to that of Plasmodium in mosquitoes.

The genus Halterium was created by the French parasitologist Alphonse Labbe for a species he observed with gametocytes in erythrocytes, with pigment granules, and halter-shaped when fully formed. This genus was soon subsumed into the genus Haemoproteus.

The genus Haemocystidium was created to give a name to the haemoproteid of a gecko belonging to the genus Hemidactylus in Sri Lanka by Castellani and Willey in 1904. A second species in this genus was described in 1909 by Johnston and Cleland who found pigmented gametocytes in the blood of the Australian tortoise Chelodina longicollis. These species were transferred to Haemoproteus in 1926 by Wenyon.

The genus was resurrected by Garnham in 1966 when he created a new generic name - Simondia - for the haemoproteids of chelonians. He followed the opinions of Wenyon, Hewitt and DeGiusti and suggested that all these parasites belonged to the one species - Simondia metchnikovi. He retained the name Haemocystidium for the haemoproteids of lizards.

A different genus of vectors was identified in 1957 by Fallis and Wood when they identified Haemoproreus nettionis in Culicoides downesi Wirth and Hubert in Ontario, Canada.

Levine and Campbell in 1971 moved all the species in Simondia and Haemocystidium into Haemoproteus an opinion that was followed by subsequent authors.

The genus Haemocystidium was resurrected again by Telford in 1996 when he described three new species of protozoa in geckos from Pakistan.[1]

This genus like those of many protozoa may be further modified once additional DNA sequences are available.

Life cycle

The infective stage is the sporozoite which is present in the salivary glands of the vector. Once the vector bites a new host, the sporozoites enter the blood stream and invade endothelial cells of blood vessels within various tissues including those of the lung, liver and spleen. Within the endothelial cells, the sporozoites undergo asexual reproduction becoming schizonts. These in turn produce numerous merozoites which penetrate the erythrocytes and mature into either female gametocytes (macrogametocytes) or male gametocytes (microgametocytes). Gametocytes can then be ingested by another blood-sucking insect where they undergo sexual reproduction in the midgut of the insect to produce oocysts. The oocysts rupture and release numerous sporozoites that invade the salivary gland and serve as a focus of subsequent infection for another host once the insect takes its next blood meal.


The earliest known fossil is of a Haemoproteus like organism (Paleohaemoproteus burmacis) was found in the abdominal cavity of a female biting midge trapped 100 million years ago in amber found in Myanmar.[2]

Diagnostic criteria

  • Gametocytes are only present within erythrocytes
  • Gametocytes have a “halter-shaped” appearance with little displacement of the host nucleus
  • Schizonts are not seen on peripheral blood smears
  • Multiple pigment granules (hemozoin) are present within the erythrocytes

Pigment granules are refractile and yellow to brown in colour.

General description

Only gametocytes are found in the blood.

Asexual reproduction occurs in body organs especially the liver.

The organisms occupy the majority of the cytoplasm, leaving the a light magenta, finely granular, pink nucleus centrally located.

Taxonomy of this genus is difficult as there are few distinct morphological differences between the recognised species. Many of them were described under the 'one species-one hos't hypothesis which is now thought to be potentially misleading. The morphological features most commonly used to describe a species include the number of pigment granules, the degree of encirclement of the host nucleus, the size of the parasite, the degree of host nucleus displacement and the degree of host cell enlargement. DNA studies should help to clarify this area but to date have rarely been undertaken.

The gametocytes have five basic forms

  • thin gametocytes with incomplete margins (H. balearicae, H. pelouri)
  • halterial gametocytes (H. maccullumi)
  • thick sausage shaped gametocytes that fill most of the host cell and displace the host nucleus laterally (H. halyconis, H. plataleae)
  • gametocytes that encircle the host nucleus and fill the host cell (H. telfordi)
  • straight gametocytes that normally occur in anucleate cells and are almost as long as the host cell (H. enucleator)


The species infecting avian hosts have been divided into two subgenera - Haemoproteus and Parahaemoproteus - a division proposed in 1965 by Bennett et al. These may be distinguished as follows:

Haemoproteus: Vectors are hippoboscid flies (Hippoboscidae). Exflagellation does not occur below 20 degrees Celsius. Mature oocysts have diameters greater than 20 micrometres. The average length of the sporozoites is less than 10 micrometres. One end of the sporozoite is more pointed than the other. Although the majority are parasites of the Columbiformes, some species from this subgenus have also been reported in the Charadriiformes, Pelecaniformes and Suliformes.

Parahaemoproteus: Parasites of birds other than the Columbiformes. Vectors are biting midges (Ceratopogonidae). Exflagellation occurs below 20 degrees Celsius. Mature oocysts have diameters less than 20 micrometres. The average length of the sporozoites is greater than 10 micrometres. Both ends of the sporozoite are equally pointed.


Infections with most Haemoproteus species appear to produce subclinical infections.

Post-mortem findings include enlargement of the spleen, liver and kidneys. These organs may appear chocolate-brown due to hemozoin deposition. Cytologic imprints may reveal schizont-laden endothelial cells. Some species of Haemoproteus will also form large, cyst-like bodies within the skeletal muscles that resembling those seen with Sarcocystis species infections.

Pigeons infected with Haemoproteus columbae may develop enlarged gizzards.

Flocks of bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) may become infected with Haemoproteus lophortyx. Infected birds may suffer from reluctance to move, ruffled appearance, prostration and death. Other fidings include parasitemia and anemia. Large megaloschizonts may be present in skeletal muscles, particularly those of the thighs and back. The average cumulative mortality for flocks experiencing outbreaks may be over 20%.

Experimental infection of turkeys with Haemoproteus meleagridis resulted in lameness, diarrhea, depression, emaciation, anorexia and occasionally anemia.

Muscovey ducks infected with Haemoproteus nettionis suffered lameness, dyspnea and sudden death.

In other avian species, anemia, anorexia and depression have been reported occasionally.

Effect on vectors

H. columbae infects rock pigeons (Columba livia) and is vectored by a hippoboscid fly (Pseudolynchia canariensis).[3] Both sexes of vector can transmit the parasite. Species of the Hippoboscoidea the superfamily to which Ps. canariensis belongs do not lay eggs. Instead the larvae hatch in utero, are fed internally by 'milk glands' and pass through three morphological stages before being deposited to pupate. The survival of female flies is significantly reduced when they were infected with the parasite. In contrast no effect is seen on male fly survival. Additionally the females produce fewer offspring when infected but the quality of the offspring does not seem to be affected.

Host records

Avian hosts

Reptile hosts

  • H. balli - Egyptian cobra (Naja haje haje)
  • H. chelodina - saw-shelled tortoise (Elseya latisternum)
  • H. edomensis - lizard (Agama stellio)
  • H. geochelonis - tortoise (Geochelone denticulata)
  • H. kopki - spotted Indian house gecko (Hemidactylus brookei), giant frog eye gecko (Teratoscincus scincus)
  • H. mackerrasi - Binoe's prickly gecko (Heteronotia binoei)
  • H. mesnili - spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis nigricolli)
  • H. metchnikovi - turtle (Chrysemys picta), yellow bellied terrapin (Tramchemys scripta)
  • H. oedurae - Australian northern velvet gecko (Oedura castelnaui)
  • H. peltocephali - river turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus)
  • H. phyllodactyli - gekkonid (Ptyodactylus elisa)
  • H. ptyodactyli - Kramer's yellow fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii)
  • H. tarentolae - Moorish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
  • H. trionyxi - Ganges softshell turtle (Trionyx gangeticus)

Amphibian hosts

Hosts known to be infected but Haemoproteus species not identified


Avian families affected

The concept of a one host-one species was originally used in the taxonomy of this genus as it appears that the parasites are at least moderately host specific. After this rule was found to be incorrect, it was suggested that the avian parasite species were limited to single avian families. From an inspection of the host records above it is clear that this is not the case.

The avian species known to be infected are listed below:

Order Accipitriformes

Family Accipitridae

Family Cathartidae

Order Anseriformes

Family Anatidae

Order Charadriiformes

Family Laridae

Order Ciconiiformes

Family Ciconiidae

Order Columbiformes

Family Columbidae

Order Coraciiformes

Family Alcedinidae

Family Brachypteraciidae

Family Bucerotidae

Order Falconiformes

Family Falconidae

Order Galliformes

Family Numididae

Family Odontophoridae

Family Phasianidae

Family Tetraonidae

Order Gruiformes

Family Gruidae

Family Otidae

Order Passeriformes

Family Acrocephalidae

Family Corvidae

Family Dicruridae

Family Emberizidae

Family Estrildidae

Family Fringillidae

Family Hirundinidae

Family Icteridae

Family Laniidae

Family Meliphagidae

Family Mimidae

Family Motacillidae

Family Muscicapidae

Family Nectariniidae

Family Oriolidae

Family Paridae

Family Paradisaeidae

Family Parulidae

Family Passeridae

Family Ploceidae

Family Pycnonotidae

Family Sturnidae

Family Sylviidae

Family Thraupidae

Family Timaliidae

Family Turdidae

Family Vangidae

Family Zosteropidae

Order Pelecaniformes

Family Fregatidae

Family Threskiornithidae

Order Piciformes

Family Megalaimidae

Family Picidae

Order Phoenicopteriformes

Family Phoenicopteridae

Order Psittaciformes

Family Cacatuidae

Family Psittacidae

Order Strigiformes

Family Strigidae


Haemoproteus balazuci Dias 1953 is a junior synonym of Haemoproteus testudinalis

Haemoproteus gymnorhidis de Mello 1936, Haemoproteus granulosum Rey Vila 1945, Haemoproteus danilewskyi var. urbanensis Sachs 1953 and Haemoproteus zasukhini Burtikashvili 1973 are considered to be synonyms of Haemoproteus passeris Kruse 1890.

Haemoproteus rouxi Novy and MacNeal 1904 is a nomen nudum.


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