Biologist finds potential new species – up his own nose

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Yes, you read that right. Professor Tony Goldberg, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, returned from a research trip to Africa to discover ‘an arachnid stowaway‘ in his nasal cavity.

Turned out to be a tick (rather an unpleasant creature to find hiding up your nose), and, after removing it ever-so-carefully, Professor Goldberg sent it to be DNA sequenced and compared to other species at the US National Tick Collection at Georgia University. There were no matching records, meaning that either it’s a species that’s known but not yet sequenced, or it’s a completely new species.

The article listed above has some fascinating speculations from Goldberg about how diseases are transmitted among chimpanzees – since grooming works to remove parasites such as ticks, some ticks may have evolved to get into ‘hard-to-reach’ places (scare quotes because I’m shuddering while typing this).

Meanwhile, I’m crossing Africa off my list of holiday destinations, and adding the US National Tick Collection at Georgia University. Or maybe not.

[Feature image:  Bonobo (pygmy chimp). Image by Kabir Bakie, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5]


  1. He could have been really “ticked off” about it, but I guess he wasn’t, having now removed the thing from his nasal passage. What a delightful story and it begs the question, what else is out there, stowed away from view.

    Best Wishes


    1. Hi Tony,

      And after all my good work resisting the tick puns, you had to go there.;-)

      Yes, it does indeed raise the question of what else is out there that we don’t know about: I’d guess that the answer is “a lot”, because we’ve really only scratched the surface in terms of species, and the smaller ones are much harder to find. Especially when they’re hidden away like this one.

  2. Such a crazy story!
    It would have had such a different ending if he had been a “normal” guy with a tick up his nose.
    How often do we see or remove little arthropods from ourselves without sending it to be DNA sequenced?


    1. I can honestly say I’ve never sent anything to be DNA sequenced, tick or otherwise. 🙂

      And I think most people probably wouldn’t even recognise a tick if they saw one (although it would be hard to see if it was up your own nose: I have this mental image of standing in front of the mirror, head tipped back, trying to squint up my nostril). So they’d probably try to pull it or scratch it out, and just end up in the casualty room while the head was removed. Not much chance for species identification then.

    1. Thanks, B^4 – you know I won’t be sleeping tonight after that bit of info.

      True story: my cousin was once the subject of medicinal leeches. He was a miner at Coober Pedy, and got his leg chewed quite badly by a tunneling machine. His mate dragged him along the tunnel, got him to the surface somehow, tossed him in the back of the ute (note for US readers – a ute is a ‘utility vehicle’, i.e. a flatbed small truck) and drove him back to town, where the local doctor wisely stitched up the wound while still full of grit, before having him airlifted down to Adelaide to the emergency room.

      Of course, the wound went bad, and blood was pooling in the leg, so to avoid any number of Bad Things they had to attach a bunch of leeches to his leg. Made the papers.

      He ultimately lost the leg below the knee, but his wife promised to hollow out the replacement and put in a beverage container with a tap on the toe, so it wasn’t all bad.

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