Controlling the Spread of Lyme Disease Through Tracking Technology

In Howard County, Maryland, the Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks (HCRP), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Maryland (UMD) are conducting a study where they’re collaring white-footed mice to improve tick control that spread Lyme disease.

The tracking of these mice is part of a bigger five-year ARS Tick Management Project that evaluates the use of integrated pest management methods or minimal pesticide to decrease the black-legged tick population. Some of these ticks are carrying bacteria caused by Lyme disease and can be found in gardens next to big Howard County parks and around single-family yards.

Although Lyme disease-spreading ticks are commonly associated with deer, these ticks typically pick up the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that’s responsible for the disease from infected white-footed mice. The white-footed mouse is another host for ticks to get their blood meal that can spread Lyme disease.

Beginning now, an UMD and ARS team led by Grace Hummell, a UMD graduate assistant, will go to 4 sites and live trap 10 mice (5 female and 5 male) using cotton and food as bait. These are attractive material for the mice for nesting. These 4 sites are close to Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, Cedar Lane Park, Rockburn Park and Centennial Park.

Andrew Li, entomologist, who’s with the Beltsville, Maryland ARS Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory wants the information so he can get a better understanding of how these mice respond to the bait boxes consisting of topical insecticides and other tick treatments. Li currently coordinates the Tick Management Project.

According to Li, they require scientific basis for where they’ll place the bait boxes to gain a solid expectation that the white-footed mice will obtain enough acaricide that will kill the ticks. By understanding the mice’s’ activity pattern and home range, they’ll be able to improve host-targeted tick control.

After capturing a mouse and using tracking technology,  the team fits it with a collar that has a tiny VHF radio on it in order to track the mouse’s movements for the next six weeks. The team will then recapture the white-footed mice and take their collars off.

The next phase of the study will begin after the collaring season. The team will grid-trap and release the mice over several nights to trace their changes in location.