Thursday, March 16, 2017

This 'n That Thursdays: Ticks Versus Mice, or Recruiting One Type of Vermin to Control Another!

What big eyes and ears you have!
 (from Animal Behavior)

As this seems to be my week to complain, let me say that I loathe and despise ticks.  And a recent article suggests that tick-borne diseases are on the rise, some of which can be fatal to humans.  In the past 50 years, scientists have identified at least a dozen previously unknown diseases transmitted by these unpleasant arthropods.

Ticks need a blood meal to reproduce, and one of their most abundant hosts in the United States is the ubiquitous deer mouse (Peromyscus spp.).  In the Northeast, these mice are a favorite of the blacklegged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), which can carry a number of diseases, such as Lyme disease and the potentially deadly new Powassan virus.  Ticks can harbor at least four different diseases at once, so one tick bite could possibly lead to infection with multiple diseases!  Unlike many other species, deer mice do not bother to remove and kill ticks by grooming, and they have been known to carry as many as one hundred ticks at once.  The very idea is extremely gross, and I am sorry for that, but it is important, I promise.

A couple of researchers named Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld who study deer mice came up with the intriguing idea of using the heavy tick loads on the mice as a way to control tick populations.  Since mice like dark, enclosed spaces, they are usually caught in traps with narrow openings.  The scientists devised the clever addition of a small brush to the top of the opening that would swipe a tick-killing insecticide (similar to that used on pets) onto the backs of mice.  Just like it does for dogs, the insecticide will kill any tick that comes into contact with the skin of treated mice for weeks.  Since these mice carry so many ticks, this method could potentially put a significant dent in the tick population and thus reduce tick-borne disease transmission as well.

The two scientists have recently begun a study to determine how effective this method of tick control could be.  They do stress that, for this type of control to work, it must be a community effort and not just restricted to isolated residences.  However, if their results are encouraging and tick-borne disease infection in humans continues to rise, there could be enough motivation for many communities to get behind this relatively easy-to-implement control method.

While I am not especially fond of mice, at least they have a modicum of cuteness (see image at the top of page) and they are not bloodsuckers like ticks.  I will still be doing all that I can to keep both mice and ticks from overpopulating our property, but I am a realist.  I doubt that we humans will ever be able to eliminate either mice or tick populations completely, so if forced to make a choice I think I would have to go with the tick-assassinating mice for now!

There is just nothing cute about a tick (from Inside Climate News).

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