I have been working on Mustelids for several years now, mainly focussing on the study of traffic victims collected by volunteers throughout the Netherlands. Since I started my PhD research, another aspect of Mustelids has caught my attention, and that is the ectoparasite burden of Mustelids, with of course ticks as a main interest.
Although my sample size is still quite small, I can say that most Mustelids I have studied so far are parasitized by ticks. I have hardly found an individual without ticks! Even a picture I took several years ago of a female pine marten looking out of her denning tree includes a tick! Most individuals however are parasitized by only a few ticks, of two species: Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes hexagonus.
I found that badgers, pine martens and stone martens feed several ticks on average, with a nice distribution of both tick species. The few polecats I studied, however, were infested with many ticks (one individual carried more than 600 ticks!), mainly Ixodes hexagonus. It seems that polecats are important hosts for this tick species, although very little is known about it (I have yet to find a published study on polecat tick burdens). Seems like there is enough to do in the coming year on this front! I will try to keep you updated.
As I wrote last month, I have been working in the field for my PhD research during the summer, which meant that I did not have a lot of time for photography. By know I have just finished, and the grant result is that we caught 179 rodents in 10 areas. These 179 rodents carried a total of 3966 ticks (both nymphs and larvae), which gives us a mean tick burden of a bit more than 22 ticks per rodent. Luckily, this gives me enough data to spend the next couple of months analysing the dataset and writing my first publication on ticks!
Last week we caught very few rodents, leaving me time to start taking some pictures of the species that I study. I had one picture in mind, a wide-angle view of a rodent (either a wood mouse or a bank vole) in the forest, to show where and how these animals live. This is easier said than done, and after some attempts I got the picture that is shown above. It is still a work in progress, as I would like to have some different elements in the picture which are not there yet (and I would like to have the animal a little bit bigger in the frame), but for now I like this picture a lot, so I selected it to be this months ‘Picture of the Month’.