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article imageTimber rattlesnakes keeps Lyme disease in check

By Tim Sandle     Aug 11, 2013 in Environment
The timber rattlesnake, common in parts of the U.S., should be conserved, according to a group of ecologists, because the snake eats mice, and mice are the major contributors of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can cause serious neurological problems. It is spread by black-legged ticks, which feed on infected mice and other small mammals and caused by at least three species of bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. The disease is named after the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, US, where a number of cases were identified in 1975.
According to a team of University of Maryland biologists, based on a presentation made to the Ecological Society of America, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) plays an important role in keeping Lyme disease under control.
The timber rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper. Adults usually grow to total length of 35 to 60 inches. Their skin pattern consists of dark brown or black crossbands on a yellowish brown or grayish background.
The biologists studied timber rattlesnakes at four Eastern forest sites, and estimated the number of small mammals the snakes consumed, and then matched that with information on the average number of ticks each small mammal carried. The results showed that each timber rattler removed 2,500-4,500 ticks from each site annually.
The implication, the biologists argue, is that more should be done to conserve the timber rattlesnake. Timber rattlesnakes are listed as endangered in six states and threatened in five more under the Endangered Species Act.
More about Timber rattlesnake, Lyme disease, Rats, Mice
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