Minimal role of eastern fence lizards in borrelia burgdorferi transmission in Central New Jersey Oak/Pine Woodlands

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The eastern fence lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, is widely distributed in eastern and central North America, ranging through areas with high levels of Lyme disease, as well as areas where Lyme disease is rare or absent. We studied the potential role of S. undulatus in transmission dynamics of Lyme spirochetes by sampling ticks from a variety of natural hosts at field sites in central New Jersey, and by testing the reservoir competence of S. undulatus for Borrelia burgdorferi in the laboratory. The infestation rate of ticks on fence lizards was extremely low (prevalence = 0.087, n = 23) compared to that on white-footed mice and other small mammals (prevalence = 0.53, n = 140). Of 159 nymphs that had fed as larvae on lizards that had previously been exposed to infected nymphs, none was infected with B. burgdorferi, compared with 79.9% of 209 nymphs that had fed as larvae on infected control mice. Simulations suggest that changes in the numbers of fence lizards in a natural habitat would have little effect on the infection rate of nymphal ticks with Lyme spirochetes. We conclude that in central New Jersey, S. undulatus plays a minimal role in the enzootic transmission cycle of Lyme spirochetes.

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Journal of Parasitology