Pathobiology professor Tony Goldberg discovered one of the most horrifying things we’ve ever heard when he returned from a recent trip to study the spread of disease in Africa — there was a tick inside his nose. Goldberg believes it could be a new species, and this could lead to better understand of the spread of disease in humans and primates.
Ticks hiding inside of nostrils is a rare occurrence that seems to only happen around certain African chimpanzee populations, so remind yourself of that while you’re trying to get to sleep tonight. That tickling feeling in your nose is probably not a horrifying parasite.
Along with chimp expert Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, Goldberg hypothesizes that the ticks have gotten used to hiding in noses due to chimps’ fastidious grooming habits. Since chimps bond as a society by grooming each other’s fur, the ticks likely wouldn’t be able to survive without a convenient hiding place. After reviewing high-resolution photos of chimps from the park, 20% of the 45 chimps photographed had visible ticks in their nostrils.
When you consider that the photos they studied were originally intended to document the chimps’ teeth, it’s easy to imagine that there are even more ticks that were simply out of view in the pictures. Goldberg believes that these hidden ticks could be transferring disease from primates to humans, where it can then spread through international travel. Either way, you’ll never again look at pictures of adorable chimps without trying to find gross nose bugs.
Goldberg was unable to determine if his tick was part of a new species, because DNA results can only show that its species hasn’t previously had its DNA sequenced. He may have been able to figure out the species if the tick had matured to adulthood, but it’s hard to fault him for not waiting around for it to get there. As Goldberg puts it, “When you first realize you have a tick up your nose, it takes a lot of willpower not to claw your face off.”
The findings and possible implications were published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene on September 30. Goldberg is happy that having a tick up his nose at least served a purpose in further understanding how disease may spread between human and animal populations. We imagine that’s a nice consolation prize for someone who will probably never sleep again.
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