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Ticks, noses, and chimpanzees

October 10, 2013

Tony Goldberg (UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine), returning from a trip to Uganda, researching primate disease, discovered a tick. Which is not surprising, for anyone who has been in the field. That it was lodged in his nose made it more disconcerting. Showing the best instincts of the naturalist, he ventured forward: “my sense of being grossed out was balanced by my scientific curiosity.” He removed it with forceps and mirror. It turned out to be a species not yet known. Similar ticks are a common parasite on chimpanzees and other primates. Though likely disease vectors, and a possible source of zoonotic diseases, not much is known about them. As Goldberg explains:

It’s not really practical or safe to pick ticks out of chimps’ noses. The chimps of Kibale are very well habituated to humans, but they would still object vigorously.

He also explains why ticks find a home in chimpanzee noses: “Chimps have little noses and fat fingers. If I were a tick, I’d probably go up the nose, too.”

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