How do ticks attach themselves to their host and then make sure that they stay stuck? Scientists figured it out, among other things with the help of films showing in detail how the sign performed.
Ticks are very special indeed. Many other bloodsucking arthropods that get food through the skin of a host stay only for a short while. Take the mosquito, for example: before you realize that you have been stung, it is already gone. The tick takes a different approach: sometimes it stays on its host for a week.
Hold on tight
This means that the tick must not only find a way to penetrate the skin - unnoticed. The tick is also faced with the challenge of being able to hold on tightly so that - whatever happens - it remains attached to its host.
Scientists wondered how the tick accomplished that. They collected some ticks of the species Ixodes ricinus and put them on the ears of dead mice. With the help of cameras, among other things, they recorded what happened. They witnessed how the tick first had both mouth parts buried a bit in the skin in turn (see the video below).
After that, the hypostome with which the tick can really anchor itself firmly in the skin must still penetrate the skin. For this, the mouth parts first dive a little deeper into the skin, by means of what the researchers compare to a 'breast stroke' (see the video below). The hypostome follows the mouth parts closely.
In real life
What does that look like in real life? You can see that in the somewhat nasty movie below.
The research is important. Ticks can carry the cause of Lyme disease and transmit this disease to the host. Previous research has shown that a tick usually does not do so before the second day of its blood meal. So in order to find out more about Lyme disease and attempts to prevent it, we need to delve into the tick and in particular how it manages to hold its host for so long.