Ticks are certainly becoming more problematic for public health officials in America with each passing year. It seems like every year sees a new type of tick-borne disease, or an entirely new tick species, or both. Now researchers have learned that ticks are not as patient as previously thought when it comes to waiting for their blood meals. A recent study has found that the hungrier a tick is, the more aggressively it will seek out blood-meals. While this may seem like common sense, this finding runs counter to the traditionally accepted methods that ticks employ in order to acquire their sustenance.
When it comes to locating a blood-meal, ticks are not as brazen as mosquitoes. When a mosquito is hungry, it will not hesitate to suck the blood from any nearby animal or human. A tick, on the other hand, will wait for long periods until a host presents itself. Ticks do not move much unless they are attached to a host. When ticks are not actively sucking blood, they sit largely motionless on blades of grass, leaves, tree branches or any other form of plant matter until they can latch onto a passing host. Since a tick’s nature involves waiting for their food sources as opposed to hunting them, ticks have evolved to survive for long periods without food. The tick’s slow method of procuring blood-meals is taken into account when assessing their potential for spreading diseases among the human and animal populations. If ticks sucked blood as eagerly as mosquitoes, everybody on earth would have lyme disease.
Public health measures that aim to reduce tick-borne diseases can now be improved by taking this newly discovered feeding behavior into account. For example, hungry ticks are more likely to look for a host, and they will remain attached to their host for longer periods of time in order to fully satiate their hunger. The longer a tick is attached to its host, the more likely it is to transmit disease-causing pathogens to the host. These factors can influence the spread of tick borne disease substantially. Researchers also learned that ticks can tolerate a period of around three months without ingesting blood-meals due to their adaptive ability to slow their metabolism. After this three month period, their metabolism increases substantially, making them crave blood-meals. When ticks become hungry, they take life-threatening risks in order to attach themselves to a host. The researchers involved with this study claimed that their findings contradict many aspects of a tick’s feeding behavior that have traditionally been accepted as fact. This new study will likely prove valuable in the effort to decrease tick-borne disease cases in the US and elsewhere.
Have you ever caught a tick in the act of attaching itself to your body?