"When you get a tick up your nose, you tell the story"

My University of Wisconsin-Madison colleague Tony Goldberg has a new paper doing some innovative ecological genetics: “UW scientist sniffs out possible new tick species”.

When I got back to the U.S., I realized I had a stowaway, says Goldberg, professor of pathobiological sciences at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and associate director for research in the UW-Madison Global Health Institute. When you first realize you have a tick up your nose, it takes a lot of willpower not to claw your face off.

The neat part of this story to me is the way this study benefited from another ongoing study of chimpanzee growth and development:

Goldbergs stowaway is not the first documented case of a Ugandan nose tick hitching a ride with humans, and others have speculated that these ticks normally infest chimpanzees, which are common in the park. Intrigued, Goldberg enlisted the help of Richard Wrangham, a Harvard University chimp expert, to investigate further. Wrangham and colleagues had just begun using high-resolution digital photography to safely study the timing of molar eruptions in baby chimps from a distance. A closer look at his photos revealed ticks lodged in one-fifth of the chimps noses.

That work, demonstrating for the first time the timing of tooth eruption in a wild chimpanzee population, is an innovative use of technology tied to long-term field research. It seems basic, but it takes a lot of logistics to make reliable observations happen this way. So it’s great to see that the photographs can be leveraged for other research purposes.