Lyme Disease Near Coyotes
It’s not just the deer in the area that are the culprit of Lyme Disease. A new study shows how coyote populations and fox populations change the eco system and increases in Lyme cases.
“It was thought that deer were the only game in town for ticks,” said Taal Levi, lead author of the new study and a research fellow at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York.
Foxes have different hunting habits from coyotes. Foxes will kill many small mammals at once, stashing the kill for later. Coyotes, especially those that have crossbred with wolves, will eat deer, rabbits, or even foxes, and are not efficient predators of small mammals as foxes tend to be. As coyotes have expanded in numbers and range, the new study suggests, they interfere with the important role served by foxes: to suppress Lyme disease rodent hosts, especially around human habitation.
Many Lyme cases start with larval tick biting a white-footed mouse that carries Borrelia bacteria. The tick matures into a nymph that can infect other animals each time it feeds. The life cycle of the tick typically ends with deer, on which they prefer to feed and lay their eggs. The unlucky person outdoors may intrude at any stage and be bitten.
Using harvest records from 1982 to the present, the researchers tracked the number of deer, coyotes and foxes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In all four states, coyote hunter harvests were up over the 30-year period, while fox harvests decreased. Incidence of Lyme disease over the same time period mirrored the rise of coyotes and the decline of foxes. Deer abundance and Lyme cases were not related in Wisconsin, disproving the common belief that more deer equals more Lyme, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This more recent burst in Lyme prevalence appears to be linked to the statewide rise of coyotes and fall in foxes. Foxes don’t build dens where coyotes are present, and they may even be killed by coyotes. As a result, the small animals that host infected ticks are left to multiply freely.
Of course this makes sense in our neighborhood too where coyotes are often heard in the night, seen by neighbors and the cause of missing outdoor cats. Many in the neighborhood have experienced Lyme Disease over the past decade.
Do you have Coyotes near you? And if you do – do you hear of many neighbors with Lyme Disease?