Wetenschap - 5 juni 2014

Sheep as bait for ticks in forest

Albert Sikkema

Wageningen researcher Sip van Wieren wants to conduct an experiment in which he will use sheep as bait to catch ticks in nature reserves.

Ticks fall onto any warm-blooded animal that walks beneath them, making a flock of sheep a nice meal for the insect. However, the decoy sheep are covered beforehand in an insecticide which kills off the ticks, but before the sheep can suffer any ill effects.

Van Wieren expects the sheep to capture a large proportion of the ticks in a forest, although by no means all of them. For a lasting impact on the number of ticks, the carriers of Lyme’s disease, the flock would have to roam through the forest four times a year, estimates the researcher. Unlike humans, sheep cannot get Lyme’s disease.

New income source

Van Wieren has discussed the experiment with several forest managers in various municipalities, including the Drenthe municipality of Gieten. Previous Wageningen research has shown that the Zwanemeer forest near Gieten is infested with ticks – about 20 to 30 ticks per hundred linear metres. The forest is a recreation area, and has a nature campsite. Van Wieren wants to lead a flock of sheep through the forest and see how many ticks the sheep carry off.

Van Wieren hopes his experiment will be a success. Catching ticks could be a nice new income source for dwindling Dutch sheep flocks. Nature managers or recreation entrepreneurs would hire a shepherd with his flock to do a ‘clean sweep’ along hiking paths, for instance.