Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No Longer "Ticked Off?"

The always-inteesting science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, David Perlman, had a great one in today's issue. Titled "Lizard-tick ties yield surprise," it's about a study being done by some UC scientists on the relationship between the lizards, ticks, and Lyme disease. When I lived on the coast, I remember the many lizards my kids and I caught, especially the Alligator Lizards, often were carrying quite a few ticks. Before the word of Lyme disease got around, I'd handle these lizards and their ticks with abandon, but always remembering to rid myself and the kids of ticks when we got home. Some of these lizards carried literally dozens of ticks in their "armpits," "groin area," and ear openings. The lizards eat lots of ticks, too, but they'd almost have to eat them off their companions because the ones on their own bodies were out of reach. Maybe there was some sort of social bonding behind this?
Anyway, in the Perlman article, which deals with the Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) in Marin County, it is revealed that a protein in the lizards' blood purges the tick of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, thus reducing or eliminating their potential to infect humans with said disease. So, be nice to your neighborhood lizards!
The Fence Lizard shown above was photographed at Oakland Camp near Quincy, and the Alligator Lizard held by son Ryan was photographed by our former home in Leggett.

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