Tick Research at VINS

Kaitlin McDonald – PhD Student at Dartmouth College
Jim Armbruster – Research Coordinator

With the number of tick-borne disease cases increasing in the Northeast, it’s never been more important to understand the ecology of ticks and the diseases that they carry. One way to investigate this is to study the animal communities that serve as hosts to ticks. A better understanding of the animal residents in and around Vermont, their predators, and the number of ticks they have, will provide insights into the local community ecology and may help us to better understand why ticks and their diseases seem to be on the rise. A collaboration between researchers at Dartmouth College and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science aims to study the impact of local predators on small rodent communities and their tick burdens. This study will use a variety of field ecology methods to study small rodent communities, meso-predators (like fox and fisher), and ticks.

Kaitlin McDonald, Dartmouth College, left, and Madeleine Wallace, intern, mark a point for a trap location.

Two plots were setup on VINS campus in Quechee with a total of 64 points. Throughout the summer Sherman traps (live animal traps) will be placed at each location and baited overnight. The next morning traps will be checked for small mammal captures. Mammals will be identified, weighed, sexed, and inspected for tick load. Once complete a small amount of fur will be trimmed to identify any recaptures on previous trapping nights and the animal released where it was encountered. This mark-recapture method will allow us to estimate the small mammal population on campus and get an idea of the tick load they may be carrying.

Kaitlin counts ticks on a mouse trapped at VINS.

Tick drags will also be conducted in transects throughout campus. This process involves dragging a cloth along different areas and then counting the number of ticks attached. Game cameras are positioned around campus to reveal what predators may be in the area of our plots and transects.

Kaitlin holds a mouse in a humane restraint device

All of the findings will be used to better assess what factors may be impacting tick abundance. These protocols will also be used to survey Old Pepper Place in Chelsea Vermont. The findings from this study can potentially be used to estimate tick abundance in other areas throughout the state.

Stay tuned for notes from the field! 

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