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Tick Talk with Tom Schwan

May 15 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

$5 – $7

Date: Wednesday, May 15
Time: 7:00-8:00 p.m.
Location: Montana Natural History Center
Cost: $5 MNHC members, $7 non-members, students free

It’s tick season!

Temper your fear with fascination. Ticks warrant our curiosity (what do they do in the winter?) and our caution. The connections between their unique biology, transmission of pathogens, and changing climate make for a timely tale. Dr. Tom G. Schwan, retired after nearly 30 years of studying ticks and tick-borne diseases at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, will also discuss practical prevention methods you can use while recreating this spring and summer. You may just find your inner scientist ignited as you identify ticks along the trail!

Ticks in western Montana have a special claim to fame: in the early 1900s, seminal work on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley led to the first description of a tick-borne disease of humans in North America. The term “zoonotic diseases” was coined by early Rocky Mountain Laboratories researchers to describe “diseases in nature communicable to man.” During this fascinating program you will also learn about the history and current research regarding ticks in western Montana.

About the lecturer: Tom Schwan received his undergraduate training in biology at California State University, Hayward, where he also did his Master’s Degree in ecology. He next spent two years as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer working on wildlife-related projects at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya. Tom then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, earning his Ph.D. in medical entomology in 1983. Tom then began three years of postdoctoral training at the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. While there, he studied viruses infecting ticks associated with seabirds. In 1986, Tom moved to Hamilton, Montana, to join the Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), which is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. There, he was Chief of the Laboratory of Zoonotic Pathogens and Head of the Medical Entomology Section. He and his group investigated many tick-borne bacterial and viral pathogens, however in recent years the work narrowed its focus to the biology of soft (argasid) ticks, the interaction of spirochetes in their tick vectors, improving serological tests for identifying human infections with spirochetes, and identifying geographic areas where tick-borne relapsing fever poses a risk for humans in both western North America and West Africa. Tom retired in January 2014 but continues to be active through collaborations and writing. From 2013 through 2017, Tom shared teaching an undergraduate course on vector-borne diseases at the University of Montana, and in 2022 he taught a course for the University of Montana’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Reserve your spot:


May 15
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
$5 – $7
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