NEWYORK — Hungry ticks have some ingenious tricks. New research shows they can zoom through the air using static electricity to cling to people, pets and other animals.
Humans and animals naturally receive static charges as they are active during the day. And those charges are enough to boost the next blood-sucking tick, according to a study published Friday in the journal Current Biology.
Study author Sam England, now an ecologist at the Berlin Museum of Natural History, said: ‘Although the distance is very small, it is equivalent to jumping three or four flights of stairs in one. time.
Stephen Rich, a public health entomologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explains: Ticks are “ambush predators.”
They cannot jump or fly onto their host, he said. Instead, they roam the branches or blades of grass with their legs spread wide — a behavior known as “seeking” — and wait for a person or animal to pass by for them to grab and bite.
England says ticks appear to be limited in how far they can stretch out on their “toes”. But now, scientists are learning that static charges can help extend their range of action.
“Now they can actually latch onto hosts that aren’t in direct contact with them,” he said.
The researchers looked at a species of tick called the castor tick, which is common throughout Europe. This bloodsucker and its cousins are the main culprits in transmitting diseases to animals and humans, including Lyme disease, and are most active during the warm months.
The researchers found that when they charged the electrodes and placed them near the young ticks, the creatures would soar through the air to land on those electrodes.
According to research, normal levels of static electricity – the charge that furs, feathers, scales or clothing pick up in motion – can pull organisms through gaps as small as a fraction of an inch (a few millimeters or so) cm). While those distances may seem small to us, for a small tick they represent a giant leap, England said.
In the future, experts say, more ways could be developed to reduce that static electricity. But for now, Rich said people should continue to use classic tick precautions, including insect repellent, to keep themselves safe from bites.
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