Sly Foxes Vanish and Lyme Disease Goes Wild: Are Coyotes to Blame?

Red foxes, once a common sight throughout North America, have experienced a dramatic decrease in population as a result of their battles with coyotes. As coyotes have claimed more territory, the red fox population has dwindled, leading to an unexpected consequence: a significant increase in Lyme disease.

The Importance of Red Foxes in Controlling Lyme Disease

Red foxes play a crucial role in regulating the populations of small mammals like white-footed mice, short-tailed shrews, and Eastern chipmunks. These creatures are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. While many once believed the tick population was primarily dependent on the number of deer in an area, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz now argue that the decline of the red fox has had a far more significant impact on the spread of Lyme disease.

According to researcher Taal Levi, the rise of a new top predator, the coyote, has fundamentally changed the ecosystem in the Northeastern U.S. As coyotes have driven away and killed foxes, the fox populations have decreased, leading to an increase in the number of small mammals that serve as hosts for bacteria-carrying ticks. The researchers believe that red foxes used to help keep the populations of these small mammals under control.

The Spread of Lyme Disease

Ticks become carriers of Lyme disease when they bite infected mice. These ticks, in turn, infect other animals, including humans. According to Levi, tick nymphs are the primary carriers of the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. These nymphs are only about the size of a sesame seed, resulting in many people who contract the disease being unaware that they have been bitten.

If Lyme disease is caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can lead to serious muscle and joint pain. More severe cases can cause neurological issues, heart problems, and inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Therefore, it is crucial to be vigilant in preventing tick bites and seeking medical help if you are experiencing symptoms consistent with Lyme disease.

Preventing Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

List of Prevention Tips from the CDC

To protect yourself and your loved ones from tick bites and the risk of Lyme disease, follow these guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  1. Avoid tall grassy areas, wooded areas, and brush, as these are prime tick habitats.
  2. Apply EPA-approved insect repellents containing 20-30% DEET to exposed skin and clothing.
  3. Wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing to make ticks more visible.
  4. Tuck pants into socks or boots to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.
  5. Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, a chemical that repels and kills ticks.
  6. After spending time outdoors, promptly check your body for ticks, focusing on areas such as the armpits, behind the knees, and in the hair.
  7. Shower within two hours of coming indoors to reduce the chances of a tick bite.
  8. Check pets for ticks daily, as they can also become carriers of the Lyme disease bacteria.
  9. Keep yards clear of leaf litter, tall grass, and brush to minimize tick habitats.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Lyme Disease

If you think you or someone you love may have been infected with Lyme disease, it’s important to be familiar with the symptoms to seek treatment as early as possible. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  1. A rash, which can appear anywhere on the body but typically forms near the site of the tick bite. This rash may resemble a bull’s eye, with a red center surrounded by a clear area and a red outer ring.
  2. Fever, which may be mild to moderate in intensity.
  3. Headache and muscle aches, which can range from mild to severe.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress and lead to more serious symptoms, such as:

  1. Joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees.
  2. Severe headaches or neck stiffness.
  3. Facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), which can cause drooping on one or both sides of the face.
  4. Heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat (Lyme carditis), which can lead to chest pain and shortness of breath.
  5. Neurological issues, such as inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.

If you believe you may have Lyme disease or have been bitten by a tick, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms and any necessary testing or treatments.


The drastic decline of red fox populations in North America has had a major impact on the ecosystem, contributing to a rise in Lyme disease cases. With this knowledge, it is vital for individuals to take preventive measures and be aware of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease. Early detection and treatment can help to prevent the more severe consequences of the disease.