Tick check, Lyme disease and lizards

Tick check

Throughout this past warmer-than-normal winter, ticks remained active. The two species of tick found in our area are the common brown dog tick and the blacklegged or deer tick. Both varieties have eight legs and hard, flat bodies. While both can transmit diseases to humans, the deer tick is more often associated with Lyme disease in our area.

The brown dog tick is the larger of the two. The blacklegged or deer tick is smaller and relies on the white-tailed deer as a host for reproduction, requiring a blood meal from a deer before the female tick produces eggs. Studies have shown that long-term reduction of deer populations significantly reduces the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease.

It is wise to check pets and yourself for ticks after being out in the yard or woods.

Lyme disease and lizards

Did you know there are natural ways to control Lyme disease and many insects as well? A 1998 study in California noted that the prevalence of Lyme disease there was lower than in the northeastern United States.

Robert Lane, a professor of insect biology at the University of California at Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, tried to find out why. Turns out, the Western fence lizard carries a protein that, when the tick feeds on it, cleanses the tick of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

While the eastern U.S. doesn't have the Western fence lizard, we do have its cousin, the Eastern fence lizard. Unfortunately, based on a study published in the Journal of Parasitology, June 2007, the Eastern fence lizard does not have the proteins of its western cousin. This same study found that the five-lined skink, a Maryland native, does harbor the proteins needed to disinfect deer ticks of the Lyme bacterium.

The five-lined skink is about 5 to 8 inches long. Its coloring is variable, depending on age. The young have five yellow or white stripes on the head. Its back is black and it has a blue tail. Adult females resemble the young minus the blue tail and a dark brownish-gray body. Adult males are a uniform tan or olive with orange-red jaws during the breeding season, with the color fading afterward.It is the most common of our backyard varieties. These skinks prefer wooded areas, usually on the ground, under rocks and rotting, coarse and woody debris, most often in areas that maintain some moistness throughout the year.

Written by Jim Arnold, FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 4/29/2012