Pedro Point Headlands Restoration & Stewardship
A Western Fence Lizard on a rock in Southern California

A Western Fence Lizard on a rock

Kathy Kellerman, PLT Board Member, commented that so far this year the ticks have been less abundant than usual at Pedro Point Headlands (PPH). Nevertheless, ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which infects humans, dogs, and horses, so be sure to take the usual precautions when enjoying the headlands.

She also mentioned an interesting connecting between the Western fence lizard and ticks; Berkeley researchers have found that the black-legged ticks that feed on the lizards are cured of Lyme disease. “Lizards are doing humanity a great service here,” said Robert Lane, professor of insect biology. “The lizard’s blood contains a substance – probably a heat-sensitive protein – that kills the Lyme disease spirochete,” said Lane.

A more recent study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that areas where the lizard had been removed saw a subsequent drop in the population of the ticks that transmit Lyme disease.

According to LiveScience, in the Western United States, lizards that host ticks are immune to Lyme disease, prompting scientists to anticipate that if the lizards were removed, the disease would flourish. Not so, a study in California has found.

As reported in Berkeley News, the lead author Andrea Swei explained,“Our expectation going into this study was that removing the lizards would increase the risk of Lyme disease, so we were surprised by these findings. Our experiment found that the net result of lizard removal was a decrease in the density of infected ticks, and therefore decreased Lyme disease risk to humans.”

Despite the complicated biology, wherever Western fence lizards prevail, incidence of Lyme disease is low; Californians suffer far less than East-coasters from this often-devastating disease.

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