The roles of birds, lizards, and rodents as hosts for the western black-legged tick Ixodes pacificus

J Vector Ecol. 2004 Dec;29(2):295-308.


We compared the infestation by ixodid ticks of lizards, rodents, and birds collected simultaneously within areas representing common habitat types in Mendocino County, CA. Lizards were infested only by Ixodes pacificus Cooley and Kohls, birds by I. pacificus and Haemaphysalis leporispalustris (Packard), and rodents by I. pacificus, I. spinipalpis Hadwen and Nuttall, I. woodi Bishopp, Dermacentor occidentalis Marx, and D. variabilis (Say). Infestation by I. pacificus larvae and nymphs of lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis Baird and Girard; Elgaria spp.) and western gray squirrels (Sciurus griseus Ord) (means of 9-35 larvae and 5-6 nymphs per animal) was several times greater than for Neotoma fuscipes Baird woodrats, Peromyscus spp. mice, and birds (means of 0.9-3.5 larvae and 0-0.3 nymphs). Overall, Borrelia-refractory lizards accounted for 84% of I. pacificus larvae and 91% of nymphs collected from animals in dense woodlands. Bird species frequently utilizing tick-questing substrates such as leaf litter (guild I birds) were more heavily infested by I. pacificus subadults (5.2 larvae and 1.0 nymphs per bird) than guild IV birds with minimal perceived contact with tick-questing substrates (0.08 larvae and 0.06 nymphs per bird). Notably, guild I birds carried similar larval loads and at least 20-fold higher nymphal loads relative to woodrats and mice. Only guild IV birds carried as few I. pacificus nymphs as did these rodents. The ratios of larvae to nymphs suggest that, relative to birds, lizards, and squirrels (infested by 1.3-6.0 larvae per nymph), nocturnally active ground-dwelling rodents such as woodrats and mice are underutilized by the nymphal stage (69 to >100 larvae per nymph). The western gray squirrel and guild I-II birds (e.g., the dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis [L.]) were the only potential reservoirs of Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson, Schmid, Hyde, Steigerwalt, and Brenner (the causative agent of Lyme disease in North America) that were frequently infested with both I. pacificus larvae and nymphs and commonly utilized dense woodland habitats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bird Diseases / parasitology
  • Birds / parasitology*
  • California
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Ixodes / pathogenicity*
  • Lizards / parasitology*
  • Rodentia / parasitology*
  • Tick Control / methods
  • Tick Infestations / veterinary