It is a role reversal of sorts. Up until now deer ticks in Wisconsin were the ones seeking out humans. Now a team of researchers from UW Madison are seeking out the deer ticks with the intention of finding an effective way of killing them. It is part of a research project taking place in the UW Arboretum.
Central to the research project are mice.
“We see in some of our studies that the mice are way more effective at collecting the ticks than we are,” says Dr. Susan Paskewitz, a professor at UW Madison.
The project involves distributing 25 sections of PVC pipe over 16 half acre plots throughout the Arboretum. Inside each pipe are cotton balls that have been sprayed with Permethrin, an insecticide that kills ticks. The mice take the cotton balls and use them to build nests. When the tick latches onto the mouse and then comes in contact with the cotton ball, it dies.
“The mice are moving around in the landscape in different ways and they are very effective in picking them up and that means we can target insecticide right to this really efficient method of concentrating the ticks and that way we don’t need to spray a lot of insecticide in the environment, so we can really reduce the impact that way,” says Paskewitz.
The research team will monitor the plots where the treatment tubes are deployed to determine if the population of deer ticks is impacted.
“I’m kind of hoping that we begin to see things even this season, but it could be next year or the year after before we really get an impact,” says Paskewitz.
The application the research team envisions for this could hit home…literally.
“It is targeted because we are trying to work and develop a treatment in which home owners on say a half acre or so can actually protect themselves in their own homes,” says Jordan Mandli, a UW Madison grad student working on the project.
“My hope is that we’ll have another tool that we can offer to citizens of Wisconsin who live in these kinds of environments,” says Paskewitz.
While the Permethrin is deadly to the tick, it is not to humans or the mice. It is comparable to the tick treatments given to dogs.
While the research project may provide another tool for dealing with deer ticks and diseases spread by them they will not replace the need to take necessary actions when in areas where ticks might be. That includes use of Permethrin on clothing and other insecticides effective for ticks. Checking yourself, your children and animals for ticks is also a necessity.
To date 67 confirmed cases of Lyme disease have been diagnosed in Wisconsin this year.
For more information about Lyme disease and prevention, visit the Wisconsin Division of Public Health’s web page at: