This summer, decoy sheep will be pressed into service to catch ticks. The sheep have been treated with an anti-tick substance that quickly kills ticks that try to attach themselves to a sheep. Hikers and walkers should then have less trouble with the pests.
In the Netherlands, ticks live — and can be extremely plentiful — in the forests and other natural areas. Many ticks are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease. Since 2012 Wageningen University has collaborated with the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) on a study to reduce the number of ticks in an area. The experiment with the decoy sheep is being implemented by the Resource Ecology Group at Wageningen University, under the direction of Dr Sip van Wieren. During the trials, a group of decoy sheep walk in a specific area or on a certain forest path with a herder. Beforehand and afterwards, the researchers count the number of ticks on the experimental path so that they can determine how many ticks have been killed, and if there are any ticks left. The trial locations are three natural campsites and three forest hiking trails. At each location the treatment is to be repeated twice or three times in order to gain insight into the effect of the decoy sheep.