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A Wilder View: Wildlife and Lyme Disease

Posted at 12:01 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 14:34:00-04

How can a coyote, a mountain lion, and a tick impact human health? MTN's wildlife correspondent Tanner Saul explains how all of these animals are connected.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in North America -- and cases are increasing. As a top predator, mountain lions can indirectly affect the disease and ultimately be better for our health.

Lions primarily feed on deer leading to normal-sized deer populations and less food for coyotes. From this there can be more foxes in the ecosystem as fewer coyotes are predating them -- and with more foxes, there are fewer mice.

Mice can carry huge tick burdens without having their fitness compromised.

This is bad news for us because these rodents are also very efficient at harboring and transferring pathogens to feeding ticks. Imagine a mouse that has Lyme Disease is bitten by a tick in its nymphal stage -- which is the young part of the tick’s life. That tick then matures and travels from one host to the next spreading the disease.

In order to control the spread of the disease, it’s important to control the mouse population and maintain a balanced ecosystem.

In areas that don’t have mountain lions indirectly controlling mouse numbers -- such as the East Coast -- there will be more ticks to act as carriers for Lyme Disease.

Mountain lions keep the tick numbers down by keeping the deer and mouse numbers lower creating an overall healthier system for people.

So, more mountain lions eventually means a lower chance of getting Lyme Disease.