Stable flies are the latest suspect that may be involved in the West Nile virus deaths of hundreds of pelican chicks at the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Montana. West Nile virus killed 800 to 1,000 pelican chicks in 2003, averaged 400 in each of the next three summers and more than 600 this year.
|The Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge contains the fifth largest colony of American white pelicans in North America.
Veterinary entomologist Greg Johnson of Montana State University said earlier this year that he considered the possibility that lice were transmitting West Nile virus to pelicans. He became suspicious after collecting very few mosquitoes in 2006, but seeing pelicans continue to die at a high rate. Johnson discovered previously that the Culex tarsalis
mosquito is the primary carrier of West Nile virus in Montana and that the Medicine Lake refuge was one of the hot spots for the virus.