ScienceDaily reported that American biologist Tony Goldberg regularly travels to Kibale National Park in western Uganda to watch how infectious diseases travel throughout the wilds, but something he did not anticipate was finding an undiscovered species of tick up his nose. A Wisconsin native and familiar with his local tick population, he’d never heard of anyone having a tick in their nose, so he did some extensive research.
“When I got back to the U.S., I realized I had a stowaway,” he said. “When you first realize you have a tick up your nose, it takes a lot of willpower not to claw your face off.”
Goldberg is a professor of pathobiological science at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and associate director for research in the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, so he has a little experience dealing with intrusive insects.
After carefully removing the tick, he sealed it in a test tube and froze it. When he and a Texas A&M University colleague sequenced the tick’s DNA, they discovered it had no matches in the database. “Either it’s a species of tick that is known but has never been sequenced, or it’s a new species of tick,” he wrote in the study.
Chimpanzees, common in the Kibale National Park, deal with nose ticks all the time, and Goldberg’s tick was not the first to latch onto a human. In order to determine just how frequent the nose ticks are at Kibale, Goldberg and Harvard chimp expert Richard Wrangham took a series of high-res photos to study chimp noses. In about one of five chimps’ noses was a tick.
Believed to be of the genus Amblyomma, Goldberg suggests that the nose tick “could be an underappreciated, indirect, and somewhat weird way in which people and chimps share pathogens.”
Since the tick avoided detection as Goldberg flew internationally, if the frequency of global travel is factored in, nose ticks could easily spread from Uganda to the rest of the world. The ticks likely evolved to target the nose to escape being combed out through regular chimpanzee grooming.