Digging deeper, Goldberg determined through a review of previously published studies that his international hitchhiking nose tick, and likely those of the chimps, are of the genus Amblyomma. "Amblyomma are known disease carriers, so this could be an underappreciated, indirect, and somewhat weird way in which people and chimps share pathogens," says Goldberg.
And this is why studying the ticks is important. According to Goldberg, given that a tick of this sort can avoid detection through an international flight, coupled with the frequency of global travel, it's possible they could establish exotic tick populations and spread disease to other countries.
Goldberg has spent a large portion of his life in Wisconsin, where wood and deer ticks are abundant, but he has never heard of anyone having a tick up their nose. So why would ticks in the forests of Africa evolve to embed themselves in chimp nostrils? Goldberg surmises that it may have a lot to do with chimp grooming habits.
"Chimps are highly intelligent and social," says Goldberg. "Above all else, grooming is what they use to bond their society. They're absolutely nuts about it."
The ticks may have developed a knack for nostril-diving to better avoid being "groomed off." As a precedent for this behavior, Goldberg points to a species of chimp louse that, when exposed to light, will stiffen, thrusting its front legs straight forward and rear legs back. It may do this to make itself resemble a piece of debris when chimp hair is parted during grooming in an effort to avoid detection, he says.
"Infectious disease and immunology researchers of
|Contact: Tony Goldberg|
University of Wisconsin-Madison