Blood-sucking ticks might be even more clingy than we thought. Recent research has found that at least one tick species appears to use static electricity to cling to potential hosts. The trick allows the tick to extend its range by several body lengths, the authors say.
Ticks are tiny parasitic arachnids, although they are more closely related to mites than spiders. In order to survive, ticks usually have to feed on the blood of other animals. And it is this same lifestyle that makes them a prolific vector for transmitting many diseases to their hosts, including humans. It is estimated that nearly half a million people are diagnosed with it in the United States each year Lyme diseasethe most common tick-borne germ in the country.
Despite their resemblance, vampire bugs are unable to fly or jump. To reach their prey, many species behave as follows: seekThis basically means they climb up a leaf or other vegetation and latch on to a host as the animal brushes past it. But a team of researchers in the UK did hypothesized that ticks not only rely on direct contact to position themselves in the best feeding position, but also use electrostatic forces.
In a study published Over the weekend, the researchers presented several lines of evidence, including laboratory experiments, for their theory in the journal Current Biology. They focused on examining young castor bean ticks (Ixodes ricinus), a common source of Lyme disease and other diseases in Europe.
In one experiment, for example, they electrostatically charged animal fur and then found that the ticks could be pulled to the fur over short distances. In another experiment, they showed that ticks can be attracted to electrodes tuned to mimic a potential host’s electric field, allowing the ticks to be lifted across air gaps. They also found that natural interactions between animals and surrounding vegetation can generate powerful electric fields and that the ticks can be equally attracted to positive and negative voltages, likely increasing the likelihood of this trick occurring.
The static boost may only extend the ticks’ ability to reach a host by a few millimeters, but that’s still several body lengths more than they could normally reach. In the humIt’s “the equivalent of jumping three or four flights of stairs at a time,” said lead study author Sam England, an ecologist at Berlin’s Natural History Museum Associated Press.
Other scientists have to repeat the findings of England and his team before going mainstream. But if this research is successful, we may eventually learn that ticks aren’t the only ones using static electricity to their advantage. The team theorize that this ability could be widespread in all types of skin-penetrating parasites, including fleas, lice and other mites.