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”

LEAVE THE LEAVES!

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It’s time for my annual appeal for disorder, chaos, and Mother Nature’s right to winterize her home as she sees fit. Your contribution? Stay out of the way.

Leaf-raking must hearken back to the origins of the lawn. Today’s lawn evolved from the broad sheep pastures that surrounded English country estates: Just as every suburban American deserved a “castle” of her own, she also deserved a miniature field of grass. Lacking micro-sheep to maintain these micro-pastures, homeowners were vulnerable to misguidance on artificial perpetuation of this artificial landscape. Like raking leaves.

Full disclosure: I do rake some leaves. If too many gather in the hollows and wind shadows of my Freedom Lawn, they’ll create dull spots in my springtime tapestry.

But I don’t pick them up, and I sure as shootin’ don’t put them in a bag made of pulverized trees and haul them to the curb for a diesel-powered truck to collect. My carbon footprint cannot afford that lifestyle. I need to conserve all my discretionary carbon for transporting chocolate from the tropics.

But more importantly, those leaves are needed here in the yard. Curly and crisp, the leaves trap air when they stack up, delivering a substantial R-value. Frogs, native bees, voles, beetle-bugs, and a trillion other little critters have evolved a lifestyle that depends on locating a wind-stacked heap of those leaves, and crawling under it for the winter.

Carting your lawn’s leaves to the curb is like breaking into your neighbors’ house during a blizzard and stealing all their blankets.

So I rake, but all the beastie-blankets stay within the confines of the yard. Along the fences, under trees, on top of gardens, those leaves will spend the winter providing creature comfort to creatures.

In the spring, I used to pluck the flattened leaf-carpets from my flower beds. But this year I experimented with skipping even that step. For mature beds of native plants, it was exactly what the lawn doctor ordered: I didn’t have to thin the obedient plant or bee balm, because only the hardiest made it through the leaf mulch; and the mulch kept the soil damp. It was almost like Nature had planned it that way.