YOU, TICKS! GET OFF MY LAWN!

800px-NIEdot311That facebook post about opossums eating 1 billion ticks an hour: Is it true?

The study that spawned this silliness is much more interesting. Researchers were asking which tick-bitten lawn critters are best at reducing your risk of getting Lyme disease. The answer: The more the merrier.

When larval “Lyme ticks” emerge in the spring, they scramble up a fern and then bite onto whatever small creature ambles past. Lately, they often suck up the Lyme bacterium with their blood meal. After a few days they drop off; grow a click; and then snag a new passer-by–passing along the Lyme bacterium when they bore into the skin.

But those initial hosts vary in their ability to discover and destroy tiny ticks on their skin. Opossums are compulsive groomers, and they locate and eradicate almost every larval tick that attacks them. So if you put 100 larval ticks on a variety of animals, and count how many ticks successfully eat and advance to the status of a human health threat, it looks like this:

Who's Chewing Who?

Who’s Chewing Who?

Half the ticks who take a shot at a white-footed mouse live to suck another day. Only about 3% of those who bite a possum can say the same.

So, two things:

One: No, possums don’t eat a billion ticks a minute. That was a silly extrapolation from a controlled experiment. But possums do kill and swallow a huge percentage of the ticks silly enough to bite them.

Two: Anyway, the point of this study is that biodiversity is (once again) the answer to all your household concerns. Each of those “hosts” are killing some of the ticks that attack them in your neighborhood. More = Merrier.

Three: To get more possums to hang out at your place, the secret is again biodiversity. They eat snails*, slugs*, mice, insects, dead squirrels, etc. They’re shy and nocturnal, so give them “hedgerows” of shrubbery to hide under, and keep outdoor lights off. I don’t water my crispy Freedom Lawn this time of year, but I do water my native creepy-crawlies: My naturally mulched native plant beds hold moisture that will see an insect through drying times.

Four: Yes, possums are essentially immune to rabies; and are extra cool in myriad other ways; and they don’t dig up lawns, wreck gardens, or give birth in your basement. You’re thinking of your dog.

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OMG, just do the math, anyway: That poor possum would have to eat 24 ticks  an hour, around the clock. Every 2.5 seconds, day and night: Another tick. So, yeah: Just no.

 

*AKA “possum oysters”

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