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Deer Collar Could Help Harness Lyme Ticks

By Linda McGraw
September 2, 1999

An automatic device that puts a pesticide-impregnated collar around a white-tailed deer’s neck may help reduce Lyme disease in the northeast and help control cattle fever ticks along the Texas-Mexico border.

Pesticide collars are commonly used for controlling ticks and other parasites on domestic animals. But, until now, collaring wildlife has meant trapping or tranquilizing the deer. The new collaring unit, patented by Agricultural Research Service scientists, lures deer to a specially designed feeder filled with corn. To eat, the animal must place its neck near the collaring mechanism, which releases a self-adjusting, flexible collar, similar to flea collars worn by cats and dogs.

ARS researchers based in Kerrville, Texas, have used the collars on captive deer behind fences at the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife’s Kerr Wildlife Management Area in Hunt, Texas. They have not seen any ticks attached and successfully feeding on the neck and head of collared deer. Without collars, these deer typically have hundreds to thousands of ticks feeding on them.

The collars were impregnated with amitraz, a pesticide approved for livestock that also kills ticks on the deer’s hair and skin. The pesticide currently is not approved for use on deer, but--if labeled for this use--would be safe to use during the hunting season from October through December. That's when most adult blacklegged ticks--the culprits behind Lyme disease--feed on deer.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent tickborne human disease in the United States. About 90 percent of the cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention occur in Northeastern states.

ARS and Wildlife Management Technologies of Noank, Conn., have signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to develop a commercial prototype collaring unit and evaluate its effectiveness in a variety of situations.

The scientists have developed an electronic device to prevent double-collaring. And they are working to design the collars to biodegrade or fall off once the insecticide breaks down.

Scientific contact: J. Mathews Pound, ARS U.S. Livestock Insects Research Laboratory, Kerrville, Texas, phone (830) 792-0342, fax (830) 792-0337,