The Surprising Connections Between Deer Ticks and Mice

A few weeks ago I promised to talk about ticks and mice.  I threw out an off-hand comment about white footed mice being the host for the tick that carries Lyme disease and I said that that was the subject for another post.  Here is that post.

Most everyone thinks that Lyme disease is carried by a tick that, in part, feeds on deer.  In fact, its common name is the “deer tick” to distinguish it from the many other lovely ticks we might find in and around the backyard in the Northeast (the brown dog tick being the other most common).  So it’s easy to understand why folks would think that a “deer tick” feeds on deer.

Actually, as this recent study from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies report illustrates (and if you even need great wildlife info, they are the folks to go to.  They’re located in Millbrook, New York, and what these folks don’t know about, say, which particular, individual cultivar of a plant that deer will prefer over another, isn’t likely to be known.  They are the go to folks for human/wildlife interactions in the Northeast) mice (and a few other assorted small mammals and birds, as well as deer) are all hosts for the deer tick.

The study, written up in a brief article in the New York Times, explains the complicated interaction between mice, the acorn crop and potential global warming.  One thing they did fail to take into account was snow cover–or lack thereof–and the easy access to the mice from their predators like raptors.  I’m not sure why that variable wasn’t considered.

So the next time you wish to amaze your gardening friends (or just wish to sound superior) just remark that the deer is not the primary host of the deer tick after all–it’s the white footed mouse. Then let the fur fly!

As an aside, this interesting article from the April issue of the National Wildlife Foundation magazine also fails to consider what impact, if any, the lack of snow cover has on the lifespan of hibernating chipmunks.  It notes that chipmunks have failed to hibernate–actually to do their little thing called torpor–since 2006–and it has affected their mortality rate.

I make no pretensions about being scientific in any way; I am just an avid amateur naturalist.  I can tell you from personal backyard observations in the same place for almost 20 years, however, that in years with less or no snow cover, the raptors and other predators of small creatures have much better access to them.  I think that variable needs to be considered in this equation as well, particularly when discussing creature mortality.

2 thoughts on “The Surprising Connections Between Deer Ticks and Mice

  1. John Mitchell April 22, 2012 / 5:49 pm

    This is a great post, and very timely. Like you, I am dedicated to making people’s backyards safe from deer ticks. I am the founder Backyard Bug Patrol – we provide tick and mosquito eradication/protection services in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area. We’ve recently published an article on our website about ways to safeguard against Lyme Disease (including a comment about white-footed mice). I thought I would pass it along as a means of more information.

    Hope it helps.

    John Mitchell

    • gardendaze April 22, 2012 / 7:03 pm

      Thanks, John. Great article and some very good, common-sense solutions. Thanks for reading! Karla

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