How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks | Deep Look

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Why can't you just flick a tick? Because it attaches to you with a mouth covered in hooks, while it fattens up on your blood. For days. But don't worry – there *is* a way to pull it out.
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Spring is here. Unfortunately for hikers and picnickers out enjoying the warmer weather, the new season is prime time for ticks, which can transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
How they latch on – and stay on – is a feat of engineering that scientists have been piecing together. Once you know how a tick’s mouth works, you understand why it’s impossible to simply flick a tick.
The key to their success is a menacing mouth covered in hooks that they use to get under the surface of our skin and attach themselves for several days while they fatten up on our blood.
“Ticks have a lovely, evolved mouth part for doing exactly what they need to do, which is extended feeding,” said Kerry Padgett, supervising public health biologist at the California Department of Public Health in Richmond. “They're not like a mosquito that can just put their mouth parts in and out nicely, like a hypodermic needle.”
Instead, a tick digs in using two sets of hooks. Each set looks like a hand with three hooked fingers. The hooks dig in and wriggle into the skin. Then these “hands” bend in unison to perform approximately half-a-dozen breaststrokes that pull skin out of the way so the tick can push in a long stubby part called the hypostome.
“It’s almost like swimming into the skin,” said Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität in Braunschweig, Germany, who has studied the mechanism closely. “By bending the hooks it’s engaging the skin. It’s pulling the skin when it retracts.”
The bottom of their long hypostome is also covered in rows of hooks that give it the look of a chainsaw. Those hooks act like mini-harpoons, anchoring the tick to us for the long haul.
“They’re teeth that are backwards facing, similar to one of those gates you would drive over but you're not allowed to back up or else you'd puncture your tires,” said Padgett.
--- How to remove a tick.
Kerry Padgett, at the California Department of Public Health, recommends grabbing the tick close to the skin using a pair of fine tweezers and simply pulling straight up.
“No twisting or jerking,” she said. “Use a smooth motion pulling up.”
Padgett warned against using other strategies.
“Don't use Vaseline or try to burn the tick or use a cotton swab soaked in soft soap or any of these other techniques that might take a little longer or might not work at all,” she said. “You really want to remove the tick as soon as possible.”
--- What happens if the mouth of a tick breaks off in your skin?
Don’t worry if the tick’s mouth parts stay behind when you pull.
“The mouth parts are not going to transmit disease to people,” said Padgett.
If the mouth stayed behind in your skin, it will eventually work its way out, sort of like a splinter does, she said. Clean the bite area with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment.
--- Read the entire article on KQED Science:
--- For more information:
Centers for Disease Control information on Lyme disease:
Mosquito & Vector Control District for San Mateo County, California:

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Caption: The hills are alive … with silent, waiting. ticks. their bites can transmit bacteria that cause. lyme disease, and other things that can make. us very sick. protected by these palps is a menacing mouth. covered in hooks. first she has to find a host. she can sense animals like us by the carbon. dioxide we give off. she reaches out with her front legs. scientists call this questing. it will use that claw to latch onto something. … like your sleeve. now you see her, now you don’t. once aboard, she searches out a nice spot. to bite into … for blood. she lives three years, but in that time she. only eats three meals. a tick needs enough blood to grow from larva. to nymph, nymph to adult, and then for females. to lay their eggs. gross. let’s check out a nymph, a young tick. it’s tiny, smaller than a freckle. to grow into an adult, it needs one blood. meal, a big one. the front of its body is all mouth. it digs into us using two sets of hooks. the hooks wriggle into the skin. they pull our flesh out of the way and push. in this mouthpart: the hypostome. those hooks anchor the tick to us for the. long haul, like mini-harpoons. while the speedy mosquito digs in, sucks our. blood and splits, all within seconds, a tick. nymph stays on for days. three days, if we don’t find it before then. compounds in their saliva help blood pool. under the surface of our skin. the nymph sips it through its mouthparts,. like drinking from a straw. when a tick is full – and i mean completely. full – it falls off wherever it may be. maybe onto your bed. that’s if you don’t nab it first. you might have heard that you should twist. or burn the tick. not true. grab the tick close to your skin and just. pull straight out. that’s how you win the fight against those. tenacious hooks. hey!. i'm health reporter laura klivans, standing. in for lauren til the summer. this biologist from the california department. of public health is collecting ticks in berkeley. at this park, only 1 percent of the ticks. carry lyme bacteria. but in some places, 40 percent can be infected. so make sure to do a thorough tick check after. you go hiking. and when you’re done, check that you’ve. subscribed to deep look. happy trails!. .

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