Tick Research Update 2

With tick research and increasing prevalence becoming a media (especially NPR) topic, I decided to come up with a short list of Q&A. Here are some common questions I have received after beginning my research from some of my friends!

And I’ve included some images I have taken in the field!

 

What exactly is a tick?

A tick is basically a living transmitter of disease between humans and animals. The Lonestar tick is especially a point of interest for me as they serve as a host for E. chaffenesis, a bacterium with harmful effects but receives significantly less media coverage than Lyme disease.

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What do I do if I’ve been bitten by a tick?

The best method for tick removal and disposal would be to carefully remove them with tweezers and submerge them in rubbing alcohol or ethanol to drown them. Ticks are quite hardy and can survive being submerged in water for a period of several days. If you have been bitten by a tick, keep the tick and send it to a lab for testing if you have symptoms of lyme or discomfort.

What is a tick’s life cycle?

A Lonestar tick goes through four steps before it reaches adulthood. It starts off as an egg, and proceeds through larval and nymphal stages to become an adult. Consequently, a tick must consume a blood meal to move forward into the next phase of its lifecycle. Therefore, white tail deer populations should theoretically be very important in the study of ticks. Originally, I hypothesized that areas with a higher count of deer poop would correlate positively with areas high in tick count as deer poop would confirm deer prevalence, and ticks would die off before reaching nymphal and adult stages if they did not receive a blood meal.

 

What is tick field research like?

Much like any field research that is centered around a living organism, our research times and pace revolve around and fluctuate based on conditions affecting our subject, the tick. On days with heavily rainfall, we start later on in the day to give the ground a bit of time to dry out before we drag for ticks. Research days depend heavily on weather conditions-lasting as long as 10 hours or as short as 3.

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How does your procedure work?

My research procedure drew from a few techniques that were shared with me by Professor Leu. I used a GPS to randomly select points on public land and immediately recorded initial temperature and humidity of the air and ground of the site. These sites were 30 meter long transects, and I collected ticks with a 1m2 white canvas attached to a 1.5 m PVP pipe. I would flip the canvas every 3 meter and record and collect any ticks present. Finally, I would put the ticks in ethanol solutions, and head back to campus. My weather data was obtained from airport data listed at weather underground. As an additional safety feature, I wore field lab clothing and sprayed everything using permethrin.

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This sounds so cool! How should I get involved in research?

Reach out to professors that research topics that you have an interest in! Although, I’ve only been part of the WM tribe for one year, I’ve realized that faulty as well as TA’s are often very happy to speak with students about their research interests. Take some classes, express interest, and ask to join a lab!

 

 

Comments

  1. Hello,

    I think it’s super cool that you’re doing field research! This post was very informative and brought back a lot of memories from Bio 221 Lab. How did you randomly select the points using a GPS? What do you mean exactly by “public land?” I remember during lab we were assigned specific areas in the college woods, but I am interested to see where the areas you selected were. Did you notice any major differences between these areas and the areas we examined during bio lab? I’m excited to keep up with the rest of your posts!

  2. Hi! 🙂

    Thank you so much! I’m touched. I also took intro bio, and the funny thing is ACER helped come up with the concept for that lab. Part of the reason why the lab component was so unsuccessful during the school year (I don’t think we found any ticks in my class) was that ticks are predominantly active in the months of June, July, and August. We have about 187 random points in the Virginia peninsula that we’ve sampled before. They were chosen using a program that I don’t recall the name of, but we were careful to include different land coverage types (such as forest, swamp, marsh, etc). The ground humidity and temperature at these sites is different from the college woods for sure! All these points are located on land owned by local or central governments. It’s much easier than obtaining permission to sample on private land, but we still needed to obtain permits, call in advance, and drive a specifically labeled lab truck.

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