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The effect of infection with Lyme disease spirochetes (Borrelia burgdorferi) on the phototaxis, activity, and questing height of the tick vector Ixodes scapularis.

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Abstract

Little is known about the effects of infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes
Lyme disease, on its tick vectors. The purpose of this study was to determine the behavioural and ecological effects of infection by the bacterium in nymphal and adult black-legged (Ixodes scapularis) ticks. We found that the effects of infection were more pronounced in adults than in nymphs. Compared to uninfected adults, infected adults were less able to overcome physical obstacles, avoided vertical surfaces, were less active and quested at lower heights. Infected nymphs showed increased phototaxis and attraction to vertical surfaces. Infected nymphs also showed trends toward increased questing height and a greater tendency to overcome physical obstacles although these trends were not statistically significant. These altered behaviours in an infected tick may affect survival or pathogen transmission and may reflect kin selection in the bacterial pathogen.

Parasitology. 1996 Aug;113 ( Pt 2):97-103. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t; Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, P.H.S.

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