Its getting cold out here so put on all your clothes! That’s the advice to follow when it comes to Ticks. According to many sources ticks in general and Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) specifically are hungry and chilly so they are looking for a warm yummy host to latch onto and feed! Deer ticks are the vectors for the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.
Really there isn’t much to do to keep the little bugs from climbing on, crawling up to your neck or head or wherever and latching on for a feeding. The best prevention you can take is to cover up your body with clothes that you take off when you come in from outside and perform tick checks daily. According to the CDC its still not completely clear how long it takes from when a tick starts to feed until it will transmit the bacterium to its host but its somewhere between 24 and 72 hours.
Why does it take so long you ask? Why isn’t it like a vampire or werewolf or zombie where one quick bight and you’re a gonner? (aside from the tick being real and those all fiction…)Diffusion is the answer! Such a cool, simple, and UNIVERSAL concept in science; things move from high concentration to low concentration. In this case its diffusion of a fluid under what is called situationally referred to as a pressure gradient force. When a tick feeds the blood moves from the high pressure of your body into the ticks relatively low pressure body, but as the body of the tick begins to swell the elasticity of its exoskeleton begins to exert a pressure on the blood trying to push some of the blood from the tick back into the host. When the tick has fed enough the pressure reaches equilibrium and blood and bacteria can move by diffusion instead of acting under a pressure differential force. Did I really just use physics to explain how bacteria get transmitted? Yup, I did.
Anyway back to the ticks. I called them bugs before but really they aren’t bugs at all. True bugs, or Hemiptera are a large group of insects that include lady bugs and aphids, ticks on the other hand are arachnids or 8-legged arthropods with a cephalothorax and abdomen, not six legged with head,thorax, and abdomen. So who studies these things and what is this creepy study called? Arachnologists studying arachnology. Spiders generally give me the hebbidy gebidies, but I try to tolerate them because I respect what they are doing for me as pest controllers but ticks? I have no mercy for them! If you have been reading this and asking yourself why is he talking about ticks this week I thought this was supposed to be about the science he did this week? Well we have had to remove and identify 11 ticks from people and pets in my house this week. They all ended up being Deer Ticks but they were also all found within the first day of feeding (on the people they were just crawling and hadn’t started feeding yet). Because it is important to study them and understand how they act as vectors I thank all of the arachnologists out there and for my little part I got to be a junior arachnologist as I identified each tick and measured it to approximate its feeding time so that we knew if it was an infection hazard or not.
One last thing, it isn’t easy removing ticks. If you pinch them in tweezers the head often breaks off and gets stuck in the body which can irritate the skin and lead to an infection, not to mention that squeezing really increases the pressure gradient force on the tick pushing all that nasty infected blood back into your body. I have found a tool that works amazingly well and would advise any pet owner, hiker, or person who lives near grassy areas to buy; its called a tick key. It was really inexpensive and works soooooo much better than anything else I have ever tried. They are not easy to find locally so I bought mine online and it was totally worth the $5.98 plus free shipping if you are a member of a group of numbers that is divisible by only 1 or yourself. You know what I mean…
Stay safe and stay healthy by using some #real science to stay in the know about ticks.
For more info on ticks and Lyme disease check out: