To determine whether direct passage of spirochetes between co-feeding vector ticks contributes to the likelihood that the
Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia afzelii will perpetuate in nature, we compared the effects of time and space on transmission efficiency between simultaneously feeding ticks. The likelihood of co-feeding transmission increases with duration of attachment of the infecting tick. Co-feeding transmission becomes less efficient as distance from the infecting tick increases. Approximately 6 times as many ticks acquire infection when feeding on infected mice than when co-feeding with infected ticks. Both subadult stages of the wood tick Ixodes ricinus infrequently co-infest mice and voles in nature; on approximately 1 in 20 small rodents, larvae co-feed with spirochete-infected nymphs. Because only 1 in 100 larvae in nature appear to acquire spirochetal infection when co-feeding with infected nymphs, perpetuation of B. afzelii depends largely on horizontal transmission of such pathogens from previously infected mice to noninfected larvae.