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When Biology Pays Off

Related artical, Tick Tips

Generic tick
Photo © 2004 Jim Jung and licensors.
All rights reserved

Whenever humans have an adverse encounter with nature their first reaction, which is nearly always irrational, seems to be to attempt to exterminate whatever the perceived problem happens to be.

This is exactly what happened in Lyme, Connecticut when Lyme Disease was first discovered. The good people of Lyme, realizing that they, their pets and especially their children were at risk from deer ticks immediately began spraying, fogging and generally blanketing their yards and fields with some pretty nasty and toxic chemicals all in an attempt to rid their town of the ticks they felt were menacing them.

The citizens were correct in their assessment of the threat. They were wrong, however, in attempting a frontal assault on nature to fix the problem. As any ecologist will tell you these frontal assaults nearly always backfire in unexpected ways. This one backfired in a predictable way. In short order a number of dead pets, sick citizens, fish kills and poisoned children convinced the citizenry that a scorched earth policy toward ticks was not the way to go.

Deer mice
Photo © 2004 Jim Jung and licensors. All rights reserved

Fortunately this is America. And if you have a problem in America someone will come up with a solution...if you're willing to pay them enough.

A local biologist studied the problem. He dusted off some obscure and neglected studies concerning the life cycle of the Deer Tick and after a few days of study came up with an answer that turned out to be highly effective. He noted that Deer Ticks spend part of their life cycle attached to wild mice. He also noted that these mice lived in burrows that they line with soft, comfy materials to make them more pleasant. He also asked some chemist friends if they could recommend a safe, effective, biodegradable poison that targeted ticks. They were happy to oblige.

In short order he obtained this chemical (it's trade name is Dammanix) and applied it to a large number of cotton balls. He then stuffed the balls into short cardboard tubes similar to the ones that hold toilet paper and dropped them at intervals in brushy, tick-infested areas.

These were soon discovered by the local mice who gathered the soft, comfy cotton and lined their nests with it. Each night as they slept their personal tick population was annihilated by the Dammanix (while not harming the mice) and the problem was neatly solved. In a very short time the local tick population was approaching extinction and within two years all trace of Lyme disease vanished since the disease vector (the tick population) was no longer present to transmit the disease from animal to animal.

The Dammanix reverted to its basic, harmless elements after a time, the cardboard tubes returned to the soil, and the cotton eventually rotted away once the mouse nest was abandoned. The ticks were gone, the Lyme Disease conquered, the wildlife (except the ticks of course) were unharmed and the biologist made many happy trips to the bank.

The reader should note that there are nearly always ways to finesse nature into meeting human goals, and that they are nearly always easier, cheaper and far safer than bludgeoning nature into compliance.

The moral of this tale, however, is that none of this would have been possible without a thorough and complete knowledge and understanding of the Deer Tick's life cycle; an understanding that came about more than a century earlier, long before Lyme Disease reared its ugly head, just because someone was curious and took the time to study an obscure, insignificant and seemingly unimportant creature called a tick.

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Copyright © 2004 Jim Jung
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